Discussion paper

DP16890 Economic development, female wages and missing female births in Spain, 1900-1930

Focusing on the years between 1900 and 1930, a period characterised by significant structural transformations and rapid economic growth. this article shows that Spain exhibited abnormally-high sex ratios at birth (SRB) at least until the 1920s. Apart from ruling out the possibility that female under-registration and different mortality environments solely explain the results reported here, the analysis of regional information indicates that SRB were higher in those provinces whose economic structure was dominated by agriculture and manufacturing (relative to the service sector). In addition, during the First World War period, which arguably subjected the Spanish economy to an exogenous demand shock, increased wages resulted in decreases in SRB in those province-years that reported male and female wages. Importantly, the protective role of female wages was twice as large as that of males. Likewise, in those provinces that published male but not female wages, increases in male wages had the opposite effect and increased the SRB, thus further supporting the link between relative labour returns and female neglect around birth. As expected, the relationship between wages and SRB vanished during the 20s along with the bias in SRB. These results stress that gender discrimination around birth does not necessarily vanishes with economic growth unless this process is not accompanied by expanding labour opportunities for women.


Echávarri-Aguinaga, R and F Beltrán Tapia (2022), ‘DP16890 Economic development, female wages and missing female births in Spain, 1900-1930‘, CEPR Discussion Paper No. 16890. CEPR Press, Paris & London. https://cepr.org/publications/dp16890