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Gendered language (English)

Languages use different systems for classifying nouns. Gender languages assign many -- sometimes all -- nouns to distinct sex-based categories, masculine and feminine. Drawing on a broad range of historical and linguistic sources, this paper constructs a measure of the proportion of each country's population whose native language is a gender language. At the cross-country level, this paper documents a robust negative relationship between the prevalence of gender languages and women's labor force participation. It also shows that traditional views of gender roles are more common in countries with more native speakers of gender languages. In African countries where indigenous languages vary in terms of their gender structure, educational attainment and female labor force participation are lower among those whose native languages are gender languages. Cross-country and individual-level differences in labor force participation are large in both absolute and relative terms (when women are compared to men), suggesting that the observed patterns are not driven by development or some unobserved aspect of culture that affects men and women equally. Following the procedures proposed by Altonji, Elder, and Taber (2005) and Oster (2017), this paper shows that the observed correlations are unlikely to be driven by unobservables. Using a permutation test based on the structure of the language tree and the distribution of languages across countries, this paper demonstrates that the results are not driven by spurious correlations within language families. Gender languages appear to reduce women's labor force participation and perpetuate support for unequal treatment of women.


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    Jakiela,Pamela, Ozier,Owen

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    Policy Research Working Paper

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    The World Region,

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    Gendered language

  • Keywords

    labor force participation; female labor force participation; labor force participation rate; gender gap in primary; primary school completion rate; native language; traditional gender roles; women in society; data on women; aspect of culture; role in society; data on primary; variation in treatment; parameter of interest; children of immigrant; division of labor; primary school level; labor market participation; status of woman; female labor supply; compulsory schooling law; ratio of women; native speaker; fixed effect; gender difference; gender norm; independent variable; coefficient estimate; negative relationship; cross-country relationship; language family; historical sources; Gender Equality; language structure; spoken language; living language; confidence interval; indigenous language; language level; cross-country variation; language textbook; principal component; measurement error; empirical evidence; robustness check; world population; classification system; standard error; pedagogical material; individual level; religious affiliations; ethnolinguistic fractionalization; ethnic group; 0 hypothesis; african woman; statistical inference; language development; sign language; dying language; unequal treatment; learning material; open access; cross-country evidence; linguistic factors; small animals; female animal; maternity leave; political science; aryan languages; papuan language; causal impact; causal relationship; creole language; female immigrant; linguistic community; political outcome; gender inequalities; Gender Inequality; gender impact; class system; language use; gender quota; corporate leadership; language acquisition; common ancestor; average temperature; standard deviation; average precipitation; wage inequality; voting age; african society; university education; empirical specification; Independent States; development policy; gender division; social scientist; business executive; research assistance; economic empowerment; educational outcome; world religions; intermediate outcome; statistical significance; human beings; teaching material; academic work; mother tongue



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Jakiela,Pamela Ozier,Owen

Gendered language (English). Policy Research working paper,no. WPS 8464 Washington, D.C. : World Bank Group.