Women in a changing economy: the misleading tale of participation rates in a historical perspective

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


In this article I focus on women's advancement in the Swedish labour market during more than a century. By applying a long-term perspective I give the historical background to what is commonly seen as a success story. By reassessing census and labour force survey data I show that participation rates may tell a misleading tale not only for the past but also for the present. In a long-term perspective, Sweden does not stand out as a country with high female labour force participation rates. It was not until the mid-1960s that market work came to play a larger part of women's life, since young women worked until they had children and older married women returned to the labour force after having raised a family. During the late 1960s and the 1970s, women with children under the age of seven became an integrated part of the labour force. It seemed as if welfare reforms supported women's market work in an unprecedented way; gender differences in labour force participation decreased and became very small. A reassessment of labour force participation rates together with alternative measures of market work such as at-work and market-hours rates show that similarly to how they underestimate women's market work and contributions to production during the early decades of the twentieth century, they overestimate women's market work at the end of the century, neglecting the extent to which reproductive responsibilities still interfere with women's paid work through absence and part-time work.


Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Economic History


  • gender labour force participation, census data, survey data, Sweden
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)513-536
JournalThe History of the Family
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2014
Publication categoryResearch