IZA DP No. 2922: The Enfranchisement of Women and the Welfare State
revised version published in: European Economic Review, 2011, 55 (4), 535-553
We offer a rationale for the decision to extend the franchise to women within a politico-economic model where men are richer than women, women display a higher preference for public goods, and women’s disenfranchisement carries a societal cost. We first derive the tax rate chosen by the male median voter when women are disenfranchised. Next we show that, as industrialization raises the reward to mental labor relative to physical labor, women’s relative wage increases. When the cost of disenfranchisement becomes higher than the cost of the higher tax rate which applies under universal enfranchisement, the male median voter is better off extending the franchise to women. A consequent expansion of the size of government is only to be expected in societies with a relatively high cost of disenfranchisement. We empirically test the implications of the model over the 1870-1930 period. We proxy the gender wage gap with the level of per capita income and the cost of disenfranchisement with the presence of Catholicism, which is associated with a more traditional view of women’s role and thus a lower cost. The gender gap in the preferences for public goods is proxied by the availability of divorce, which implies marital instability and a more vulnerable economic position for women. Consistently with the model’s predictions, women suffrage is affected positively by per capita income and negatively by the presence of Catholicism and the availability of divorce, while women suffrage increases the size of government only in non-Catholic countries.