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This highlights the non-economic channels, such as culture, that underlie the effects of premodern cotton textile production on sex-selective abortion. Perhaps even more strikingly, where state socialism made economic opportunities and legal rights virtually identical for married men and married women, premodern cotton textile production is linked to a higher likelihood for the wife to be the head of the household. In this context of state socialism, household head status conveyed no information about physical ownership of property, but rather, reflected information about the role of the husband versus the wife in the household. Not surprisingly, most of the households opted for male heads of household. The fact that married couples were more likely to agree on having the wife as the household head if they were from an area that formerly had cotton textile production suggests that there is long-term cultural change from women’s economic agency. Economists have been asking why the gender wage gap persists for decades. Answers range from theories or suggestions that men are more productive than women; notions that men and women vary in important behavioural traits that have consequences for their earnings; and that there exists a set of beliefs and attitudes that systematically disadvantage women. Recent studies have shown that certain aspects of gender norms and gender roles, such as the gender identity norm, are extremely resilient. Using a detailed historical case – the cotton revolution in China – we can see that patriarchal beliefs are indeed highly resilient but also that they can be transformed by a sufficiently large increase in women’s productivity. The image of highly productive women positively shapes cultural beliefs about women’s ability, and then translates into a more positive view about women in general. More broadly, although economic forces do not dictate a value system, there is potential for economic forces to transform the value system.
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