Risk Preferences and Gender Differences in Union Membership in Late Nineteenth-Century Swedish Manufacturing

Tobias Karlsson and Maria Stanfors

Women are generally seen as less inclined to join trade unions. This study matches firm–worker data from the Swedish cigar and printing industries around 1900 and examines information on men and women holding the same jobs; such data are rare but important for understanding gender gaps. The results explain the gender gap in union membership among compositors, but not among cigar workers. Differences in union membership varied considerably across firms, with the largest differences found in low-union-density cigar firms where indirect costs (that is, uncertainty and risk) accrued in particular to women workers. The lack of gender differences in mutual aid membership indicates that women were not hard to organize but avoided organizations associated with greater risk for employer retaliation and uncertain returns according to a cost–benefit analysis.

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