Scandinavian Working Papers in Economics

Lund Papers in Economic History,
Lund University, Department of Economic History

No 144: To be or not to be? Risk attitudes and gender differences in union membership

Tobias Karlsson () and Maria Stanfors ()
Additional contact information
Tobias Karlsson: Department of Economic History, Lund University, Postal: Department of Economic History, Lund University, Box 7083, S-220 07 Lund, Sweden
Maria Stanfors: Department of Economic History, Lund University, Postal: Department of Economic History, Lund University, Box 7083, S-220 07 Lund, Sweden

Abstract: Attracting membership while stifling freeriding and heterogeneous preferences among potential members is critical for trade union success. Women are generally seen as less inclined to join trade unions, particularly at the onset of the labor movement. We highlight a previously neglected explanation for this: the importance of risk and gender differences in assessment hereof. We study matched employer-employee data from two industries around the year 1900 where union membership was associated with different levels of risk: the Swedish cigar and printing industries. We find that the gender gap in membership was larger in the high-risk environment (cigar) and smaller in the low-risk environment (printing). Women were not hard to organize but avoided risks and uncertain returns.

Keywords: trade unions; risk aversion; gender; 19th Century; 20th Century; Sweden

JEL-codes: J51; N33; N63

37 pages, March 10, 2016

Note: A revised version of this paper was published in Feminist Economics Vol. 24, 2018, Issue 1, with the title "Risk Preferences and Gender Differences in Union Membership in Late Nineteenth-Century Swedish Manufacturing".

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