The agricultural past has a persistent negative effect on gender equality, according to a study by Ekaterina Borisova, Koen Schoors and Vladimir Zabolotskiy, to be presented at the annual congress of the European Economic Association in August 2020.

The analysis reveals that countries where agricultural ancestry is more widespread among the current population are characterised by lower female labour market participation and lower gender equality, as measured by indices of gender inequality and female development.

The World Values Survey (WVS) and European Values Study (EVS) respondents from the countries with high agricultural ancestry are more likely to have male-favouring gender norms, and women respondents from these countries are less likely to be employed. The magnitude of the effect is comparable to that of obtaining an additional level of education.

According to Ester Boserup’s hypothesis (1970), sedentary agriculture propagated the division of labour across gender lines that drove women out of the out-of-home labour force. Such division, when practiced for a long time, was likely to result in the emergence of gender norms that deter women from being employed, and the longer this division was, the stronger these beliefs became.

The study exploits genetic data to measure how widespread agricultural descent is in a given country’s population. The authors base their measure of agricultural ancestry on the frequencies of Y-DNA Haplogroups – genetic markers that emerged approximately at the same time and place as the Neolithic revolution but had no direct effect on norms and preferences.

These markers allow one to trace back whether the ancestors of a population or a person practiced sedentary agriculture. The communities in which these markers are more frequent are likely to have, in general, a longer history of practicing agriculture.

The results are robust to the inclusion of control variables that correlate with gender norms and female labour market participation and to employing alternative measures of agricultural ancestry based on alternative sources of genetic data.

The results are also similar when restricting the sample to second-generation migrants. Interestingly, the agricultural ancestry in the mother’s country of origin only affects gender norms. In contrast, the agricultural ancestry of the country of the father also affects the employment choices made by second-generation women immigrants.



Boserup, Ester (1970) Women’s Role in Economic Development, Allen & Unwin.