The Gender Parity Database: A State-by-State Analysis of American Women’s Rights and Wellbeing, 1870-1970 | ABSTRACT

In the U.S., the institutional and cultural environment facing women has varied widely over time and space, particularly since states have historically had considerable autonomy to determine policy concerning issues such as early-stage female suffrage, divorce, and married women’s property rights. As such, research into gender in American history can be challenging and often requires the consultation of a number of disparate sources. Indeed, the difficulty in obtaining consolidated, systematic data on women’s rights and wellbeing remains a bottleneck to large-scale research on these topics—particularly research which examines the interaction between different policies or circumstances pertaining to women.

In this project, we assemble a new and extensive panel of indicators of women’s rights and wellbeing in American history. When completed, this panel dataset will consist of an index of patriarchal culture and institutions, as well as 60+ distinct indicators of women’s rights and wellbeing at decennial frequency, for all 50 US states/territories over the period 1870-1970—some consolidated from existing studies, but most newly gathered and digitized specifically for this project. The data collected includes measures of demographics and health, education, work, legal standing, political representation, intra-household and community status, etc., disaggregated by race and sex where relevant. In building a centralized and relatively comprehensive resource, we hope to contribute to the data available on the economic, social, and political lives of American women in history, and thus facilitate research into gender and political economy.

In the first paper drawing on this dataset, “Weakness in Numbers? Female Wellbeing and the Scarcity of Women in the American West,” we investigate the evolving relationship between a state’s demand for female settlement and the female-friendliness of its social and legal environments.