The Freakonomics blog has an interesting perspective:
From a pair of Harvard economists, Alberto Alesina and Nathan Nunn, and a UCLA business school professor, Paola Giuliano, comes this working paper (Abstract here and below; full version here) that tests the hypothesis that current gender role differences can be traced to shifting methods of agriculture, particularly the introduction of the plow, which required significant upper body strength, grip strength, and burst of power that favored men over women.
Some of their conclusions:
- We find a strong and robust negative relationship between historical plough-use and unequal gender roles today. Traditional plough-use is positively correlated with attitudes reflecting gender inequality and negatively correlated with female labor force participation, female firm ownership, and female participation in politics.
- We find that women from cultures that historically used the plough have lower rates of labor force participation in the US. This provides evidence that part of the importance of the plough arises through its impact on internal beliefs and values.
Full post here.