Discussion paper

DP18927 Cities and the Rise of Working Women

This paper documents that large cities played a unique role in women’s economic and social advances in the early 20th century. We first document that women in large cities in Europe and the United States were substantially more likely to be in the labor force, half a century before the aggregate rise in female labor force participation. To establish the role of large cities for women’s labor-market advances, we turn to the case of Sweden where women can be linked over time in census data. Women moving to Sweden’s largest city, the capital Stockholm, were about 50 percentage points more likely to enter the labor force and less likely to ever marry or have children compared to their sisters who migrated elsewhere. We corroborate these findings using linked census data from the United States. We lastly document that large American and European cities underwent an early structural shift towards services, which partly explains the historical labor-market advances of women in large cities.


Berger, T, M Karadja and E Prawitz (2024), ‘DP18927 Cities and the Rise of Working Women‘, CEPR Discussion Paper No. 18927. CEPR Press, Paris & London. https://cepr.org/publications/dp18927