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Author ORCID Identifier


Open Access Dissertation

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program


Year Degree Awarded


Month Degree Awarded


First Advisor

Carol E. Heim

Second Advisor

Ina Ganguli

Third Advisor

Laura Lovett

Subject Categories

Economic History


Race and gender create differential responses to, and outcomes of, economic crisis. In this dissertation, I study the intersection of race and gender in the context of steep declines in farm commodity prices during the U.S. farm crisis of the 1920s and 1930s. Against this backdrop, women altered their marriage timing, increased their labor force participation, and migrated off-farm. Previous quantitative studies of this period typically omitted women due to challenges linking women from one historical census to the next after marriage. I create new datasets following women over both decades and draw on archival sources to explore the impact of the crisis on Black and white women as well as men.

Chapter 1 examines to what extent the decline in farm commodity prices reduced farm tenure mobility (from wage worker to tenant to owner) and the “marriageability” of men in the South and Midwest. Using an instrumental variable approach leveraging changes in global farm commodity prices, I show that the crisis reduced white Southern tenure mobility, and white Southern women delayed marriage as a result. Racial differences in access to land ownership and regional differences in inheritance practices insulated Southern Black families and Midwestern white families from some effects of the crisis.

In Chapter 2, I create a novel dataset of over 200,000 women linked from the 1920 to 1930 or 1930 to 1940 U.S. population censuses to understand the economic, societal, and familial drivers of women’s off-farm migration. Women, facing a more limited set of economic opportunities, were more likely to migrate than men. Racial segregation in both urban employment and farming led to significant differences among women, as Black women were more constrained by family responsibilities and had fewer opportunities for urban work that rewarded education.

Finally, Chapter 3 evaluates migration outcomes for women who left. I find that migrants were more likely to be employed in wage-earning work, earn more, and have marriage partners with above-median occupational income scores. I combine these results with qualitative evidence to highlight how female migrants to the city sought not only better employment opportunities or marriage partners, but autonomy.


Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 4.0 License.