Reviewing Society’s Blueprints

With differential roles between men and women in society, what is deemed as right and wrong for each gender is culturally defined across societies. Attempting to better understand the historical origin of gender roles, with regards to the role of women in society, Paola Giuliano and her colleagues at the University of California, Los Angeles, study a variety of cross-cultural differences of gender norms.


Last Monday at her guest seminar titled “On the Origins of Gender Roles: Women and the Plough,” assistant professor of economics, Paola Giuliano, explained the historical origins of the appropriation of roles for women in society through the lens of agriculture.


Giving insight into her research, Giuliano tests the hypothesis that not only did traditional agricultural practices help establish gender norms, but also through cultural evolution are responsible for the persistence of such gender norms in modern society.


“In some societies, the dominant belief is that women should be allowed to participate freely, and equally to males, in employment outside the home. In others, there is the very different view that the appropriate place for women is within the home, and they are discouraged from participating in activities outside of the domestic sphere,” said Giuliano.


This cross-cultural difference Giuliano attributes to the presence of plough agriculture in different societies over the courses of their differential histories.


Giuliano’s findings are consistent with existing hypotheses as well. Her research has led to the same conclusion that the descendent societies of societies who traditionally practiced plough agriculture have less equal gender norms. These gender norms persist into significant regions of societal interactions affecting attitudes and participation of women in the workplace, politics and in entrepreneurial activities.


Over the course of the two and half hour long seminar, Giuliano helped clarify not only the historical significance of gender roles, but also gave an explanation for their existence and persistence in modern cultures.


Summarizing her 50-page thesis paper on the topic, Giuliano discussed her research which tested the importance of culture by examining second-generation immigrants to the United States and Europe, and found these gender norms from once primitive origins are persistent.


This information not only reinforces prior hypotheses, but also helps point to an origin for gender roles in human history. With the continued success of the Department of Economics Theory, History, and Development Seminar series, perhaps students here at UC Irvine may be able to learn more about the issue of gender roles within society, and possibly change the course of history for themselves.