The Missing Men: World War I and Female Labor Force Participation

Journal of Human Resources

40 Pages Posted: 13 Mar 2017 Last revised: 11 Jun 2020

See all articles by Jörn Boehnke

Jörn Boehnke

Harvard University

Victor Gay

Toulouse School of Economics; Institute for Advanced Study in Toulouse

Date Written: June 10, 2020


Using spatial variation in World War I military fatalities in France, we show that the scarcity of men due to the war generated an upward shift in female labor force participation that persisted throughout the interwar period. Available data suggest that increased female labor supply accounts for this result. In particular, deteriorated marriage market conditions for single women and negative income shocks to war widows induced many of these women to enter the labor force after the war. In contrast, demand factors such as substitution toward female labor to compensate for the scarcity of male labor were of second-order importance.

Keywords: Economic history, female labor participation, marriage market, world war I, sex ratio

JEL Classification: J12, J16, J22, N34

Suggested Citation

Boehnke, Jörn and Gay, Victor, The Missing Men: World War I and Female Labor Force Participation (June 10, 2020). Journal of Human Resources, Available at SSRN: or

Jörn Boehnke

Harvard University ( email )

Cambridge, MA
United States


Victor Gay (Contact Author)

Toulouse School of Economics ( email )

Place Anatole-France
Toulouse Cedex, F-31042


Institute for Advanced Study in Toulouse ( email )

31015 Toulouse, Cedex 6

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics