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Roots of gender equality: the persistent effect of beguinages on attitudes toward women

Annalisa Frigo and Èric Roca Fernández
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Annalisa Frigo: UCLouvain

Journal of Economic Growth, 2022, vol. 27, issue 1, No 3, 148 pages

Abstract: Abstract This paper is concerned with the historical roots of gender equality. It proposes and empirically assesses a new determinant of gender equality: gender-specific outside options in the marriage market. In particular, enlarging women’s options besides marriage—even if only temporarily—increases their bargaining power with respect to men, leading to a persistent improvement in gender equality. We illustrate this mechanism focusing on Belgium, and relate gender-equality levels in the 19th century to the presence of medieval, female-only communities called beguinages that allowed women to remain single amidst a society that traditionally advocated marriage. Combining geo-referenced data on beguinal communities with 19th-century census data, we document that the presence of beguinages contributed to decrease the gender gap in literacy. The reduction is sizeable, amounting to a 12.3% drop in gender educational inequality. Further evidence of the beguinal legacy is provided leveraging alternative indicators of female agency.

Keywords: Economic persistence; Culture; Institutions; Religion; Gender gap (search for similar items in EconPapers)
JEL-codes: I25 J16 N33 O15 O43 Z12 (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2022
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Working Paper: Roots of Gender Equality: the Persistent Effect of Beguinages on Attitudes Toward Women (2022) Downloads
Working Paper: Roots of Gender Equality: the Persistent Effect of Beguinages on Attitudes Toward Women (2019) Downloads
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DOI: 10.1007/s10887-021-09198-7

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