Free DP Download 04 February 2021 - HERSTORY: The rise of self-made women
HERSTORY: The rise of self-made women
Arash Nekoei, Fabian Sinn
CEPR DP No. 15736 January 2021
Women’s under-representation at the top of the social hierarchy is not just one of the most enduring aspects of gender discrimination; it also influences subsequent generations’ ambition and self-esteem. New data documents the absence of a long-run trend in women’s share in recorded history, but provides new findings on the rise of a new type of woman – self-made women – as opposed to those women who dominated history for a long time whose power was based on family connections.
A new CEPR paper by Arash Nekoei and Fabian Sinn documents the evolution of women's status across the globe and throughout recorded history. The authors construct a database of seven million notable individuals into a single database, the Human Biographical Record (HBR) to measure the share of women among each birth cohort’s most prominent individuals in recorded history and take a broader and comparative view of cross-section and time-series. Among the findings:
- The records show no long-run trend in women's share (among prominent individuals) in recorded history
- Historically, women's power has been a side-effect of nepotism: the more important family connections, the higher the women's share
- But self-made women began to rise among the writers in the 17th century before a broader take off started with the 1800 birth cohort: first among artists and scholars, followed by elected politicians, and finally appointed politicians
- The first wave among writers emerged when informal humanist education and new public spheres shaped a supply of literary women, who met the demand of a new female reading public
- A strong writer wave predicts a stronger takeoff of self-made women in the 19th century. This effect has persisted and created cross-country divergence.
Self-made women took off in separate waves, gaining momentum from 1800. What is remarkable about their rise is that it became a ubiquitous phenomenon in the 20th century, visible across countries, continents, and occupations. This unprecedented rise represents a relatively long-run trend. Its speed, given the initial low level, is far from satisfactory: at the current pace, using a linear extrapolation, we should expect to reach gender equality at the top by the year 3000. Whether the take-off documented here is a linear phenomenon remains unanswered, but what is clear is that self-made women are on the rise.
About CEPR Discussion Papers
Research by CEPR Research Fellows and Affiliates appears initially in the CEPR Discussion Paper series. These Discussion Papers are circulated widely to other specialists in the research and policy community so that the results of the research receive prompt and thorough professional scrutiny. The Centre produces more than 800 Discussion Papers each year and has an archive of over 13,000 of them. Find out more here.