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Where did all the women go?

Labor Market Changes in a Settler Society: Argentina, 1860-1914

Cristian A. Harris


      This paper discusses the relative decline of female employment that took place in Argentina during the 1860-1914 period.  This is a paradoxical situation in a settler society such as Argentina where a national bourgeoisie was trying to establish a wage labor market in the absence of capital and labor.  The fall of female employment, particularly in traditional artisan activities such as weaving and spinning, has been one of the most debated questions in the Argentine historiography of this period.  Some authors argue that the destruction of thousands of textile jobs was the result of cheap European imports under free trade policies favored by a landed aristocracy. For decades this has been the widely accepted explanation.  More recently others have stressed the impact of the construction of gender roles along with the creation of a nation-state and a capitalist labor market.  The legal penalization of irregular employment heavily affected women.  Institutions such as the state, the Catholic Church, and schools advocated the withdrawal of women from the labor market.  Both arguments provide important explanations of this particular development in Argentine history and raise critical questions regarding the nature of the development process the country embarked on during 1860-1914. 

      This paper assesses census data and secondary sources to shed new light on the question and to weigh these two explanations.  I suggest that both lines of investigation tend to confuse the available evidence, carry significant limitations, and only offer partial explanations.  The role Argentina played in the world economy during 1860-1914, a period of time sometimes referred to as the first globalization, resulted in significant social and economic changes. These changes all had an impact on female labor participation in Argentina during the period from 1860 to 1914, and I will argue that its most important features are variation and complexity not simply decline. 

      This paper discusses some critical methodological problems arising from the use of Argentine census data, defines settler societies, and highlights some key features relevant to the discussion. It then presents the available data and analyzes them in relation to the explanations previously advanced for falling female employment levels. It finishes with a presentation of new conclusions about what happened to female workers of Argentina.

Methodological Issues

      It is very difficult to determine the level of labor force participation by sex and age group in a consistent manner during this period. In Argentina, the first national census was conducted in 1869 and was plagued by numerous errors and inconsistencies which render its comparison with later censuses very difficult. The 1869 Census did not provide a breakdown between male and female workers. The definition of labor participation is problematic. This census asked people to self-identify by "profession" and not according to what they were actually doing or if they were employed at all. It is unable to capture those performing domestic tasks, working in family businesses, the self-employed, and the unemployed.  It severely overestimates labor participation rates, but, particularly given the nature of the shortcomings, it renders an analysis of changes in female labor participation very difficult. The information I am providing in this paper is based on the gendered concepts used by the census takers. Where these concepts are not clear or ambiguous, I have avoided using the data. This means that the sample is smaller than it would otherwise be. Despite some continuing problems, later censuses in 1895 and 1914 are more systematic and consistent.1

Settler Societies

      The term "settler societies" refers to those countries such as Canada, the United States, Argentina, Uruguay, Australia, and New Zealand which were settled predominantly by European migration during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.  They are located in the temperate latitudes of the world and were endowed with vast, fertile, and relatively empty areas readily available for farming and grazing.  They received large migration and capital flows from Europe.  Practically all European emigration and capital went to these countries between 1860 and 1914.  They grew in response to the demand for primary products resulting from the industrialization of Western Europe.  Settler societies enjoyed remarkable development, and this translated into the generation of wealth.  Income levels measured in per capita terms and standards of living were among the highest in the world.2

      From a historical perspective, settler societies were not "new" and, although sparsely populated, not "empty."  They had been inhabited by indigenous peoples long before European powers had explored and settled them.  European settlements had been confined to a narrow strip of land along the seaboards leaving vast extensions of the interiors largely unexplored and virtually unexploited by Europeans. There seemed to be an overwhelming supply of available land in relation to people; in fact, their population densities were among the lowest in the world. Given the available shipping technology of the day and the lack of precious metals deposits, no profitable trade could develop to justify the costs of sustaining continuous settlement.  A favorable external economic conjuncture was needed to integrate these lands into the world economy.  Such an opportunity arose in the second half of the nineteenth century.  As increased demand for foodstuffs and raw materials raised prices in European markets, alternative sources were sought in the periphery of the world economy.  Technical improvements began to make overseas and continental transportation easier, faster, and cheaper.  Moreover, land prices in settler societies were comparatively low and weighed lightly on the costs of production.  These factors gave them a competitive edge and allowed them to undersell "old settlement" countries such as Prussia, India, or the United Kingdom in European grain and meat markets.  Settler societies would find a dynamic new role in the expansion of the world economy during the second half of the nineteenth century usually referred to as the first wave of globalization.3

      The position of settler societies in the nineteenth-century international division of labor was diverse.  First and foremost, they became integrated into the world economy as the most efficient providers of primary products needed for the industrialization of Western Europe.  Second, and closely related, they in turn became consumers of European manufactured goods and capital.  Their previously limited import capacity was expanded by rising export earnings and new investment opportunities in basic infrastructure developed everywhere (mainly but not exclusively in railroads).  Third, they served as a magnet for surplus population from Europe.  Immigrants not only provided the necessary labor to fuel the expansion, but they also created thriving internal markets. Settler societies became geared towards production for export based on their resource endowment.  Their new role was the formal expression of the principle of comparative advantage.  These countries exported products that intensively used the most abundant productive factor:  land. 

      Global forces played a significant part in this process. Settler societies were recipients of massive transfers of European peoples, capital, and technology and used these inputs to convert abundant natural resources into foodstuffs or raw materials for exports to the industrializing economies of Western Europe. Entering such a "virtuous" growth cycle promised to reap endless windfalls. As Jeremy Adelman noted, by the turn of the twentieth century, "[f]ew doubted the advantages of integrating peripheral regions into a burgeoning world economy."4  After World War Two their experience became the classic example of a model of development based on integration into the world economy.5  By producing for external demand, they underwent a process of continuous growth and appeared to be destined to replicate the same type of development that took place in Western Europe, that is, the type of development that allowed for capital accumulation and long-term self-sustained growth. These countries were what J. W. McCarty called "[t]he purest examples that history offers of capitalistic societies."6

      From a global perspective, the historical context in which this process took place was unique. It was a generalized economic expansion that was not limited to a region or a group of countries but which reached every corner of the world. World trade growth was accompanied by high factor mobility especially of capital and labor. Bonds, equities, and people flowed as rapidly as goods did. Although they were not the sole beneficiaries of this worldwide economic expansion, settler societies took the most advantage of it.7

      This phase in the development of these countries--during which, in the words of Ragnar Nurkse, trade was the "engine of growth"--was brought to an abrupt end by the Great Depression.8  Until 1930, their development had consisted of a process of extensive exploitation of natural resources in which an ever-expanding frontier was matched with increased labor and capital inputs. Given the technology available, the process of incorporation and exploitation of land was not inexhaustible; it reached its natural limit around World War One. The "closing" of the frontier, that is the end of the available land era, reveals the impending "mortality" of this development strategy. Further expansion of export industries and overall growth would now depend on productivity gains.

      This period saw the emergence of a new political and social structure. By 1914 most of these countries had developed substantial industrial bases, although they still relied on exports of primary products. Two trade policy preferences were expected to rise from this situation. On the one hand, manufacturing would support protection. Because they were late-industrializers, these countries needed protection for their infant industries.  The growth of domestic markets provided import-substitution industries with an added incentive to support protection. On the other hand, landed interests would support free trade and more involvement with the world economy because the countries' economies were basically geared towards export. Labor's position was ambiguous. While workers welcomed more employment opportunities and extended markets, they rejected the high cost of living that resulted from protected domestic production.

      The industrial sector, however, was not homogeneous and, as such, the policy preferences varied from industry to industry. On the eve of World War One significant forward and backward linkages generated by export demand heralded the transition to more complex industrial economies and urban societies. On the one hand, demand from agricultural and mining activities encouraged the growth of upstream domestic industries.  On the other hand, downstream processing to further add value to primary products (wheat, beef, and minerals) encouraged a whole other set of industries. These industries followed the basic orientation of the country's terms of trade. Upstream industries (especially labor-intensive ones) faced stiff competition from imports and thus found in protection their common rallying point. Industries using land-intensive products developed commonalities with agriculture.

      In recent years, growing interest in the role other factors played in the process has helped to provide a more balanced view of the period and a better understanding of settler societies' collective development experiences. Other disciplines have broken into this area of study reinvigorating the debate, forcing reinterpretations to old questions, and raising new ones. New issues and new themes that were previously ignored, such as gender, class, ethnicity, and the environment, began to be included. 9

      Production based on free labor was prevalent in settler societies. Pre-capitalist forms of labor were either not present or quickly disappeared. Where subsistence agriculture persisted, it was absorbed into the market. Of all non-core societies, settler societies were the ones that resembled the Western European model the most. Of further importance and in stark contrast with Europe, these countries did not have to deal with a large peasant element. From the start, their productive structures were geared toward the market.  These countries did not have to overcome major obstacles presented by pre-existing institutions or strongly embedded traditions of rural labor. The absence of inhibiting traditions translated into a general lack of obstacles which might have prevented the development or spread of capitalist relationships. Nothing impeded these countries to make efficient or optimal use of their resources.

      The lack of a feudal past freed them from serious social constraints on change. In fact, settler societies were very prone to social experimentation; and many radical social initiatives were started in these countries earlier than in any other part of the world including women's suffrage, old age pension, and compulsory labor arbitration.

      Immigrants settled in large numbers, attracted by the high returns on labor (due to labor shortages, salaries were higher than in Europe) and the prospects of rapid, upward social mobility in societies unhindered by feudal constraints. Aided by large volumes of immigrants, populations expanded and settled on vast, resource-rich territories. Where native aborigines were encountered, they were rounded up and eventually suppressed.  Their newly opened plains and grasslands received wave after wave of European immigrants lured by the promise of high per capita incomes.  Between 1850 and 1914 they received more immigrants than any other countries in the world.

Table 1                       Gross Immigration into Selected Countries, 1851-1915

                              (in millions)




United States

 7.73 (68.1 %)

21.76 (59.4%)


 0.82 ( 7.2 %)

 2.59 ( 7.1%)


 0.44 ( 3.9%)

 4.26 (11.6%)


 0.79 ( 7.0%)

 2.77 ( 7.6%)


 9.78 (86.2%)

31.38 (85.7%)

Rest of World

 1.57 (13.8%)

 5.26 (14.3%)


11.35 (100.0%)

36.64 (100.0%)

Source: A. G. Kenwood and A. L. Lougheed, The Growth of the International Economy, 1820-1990:  An Introductory Text, (London and New York:  Routledge, 1992), table 7.

      Population densities did not rise sharply under the impact of migration because of the vast size of these countries. The new inhabitants (newcomers and newborns alike) were diluted in vast territories. This characteristic is even more startling given the magnitude of population growth in this period. Large net migration balances coupled with exceptionally high birth rates increased populations rapidly.  The impact of migration was also revealed in labor force participation rates, urban growth, and population distribution. The share of adult males in the labor force was much higher in these countries due to migration. There was also a strong correlation between high rates of economically active population and high economic growth. Some regions in these countries noted the presence of immigrants more than others because immigrants tended to follow distinct settlement patterns. Many of them decided to stay in their ports of entry.  As a result urbanization increased rapidly.

      A major characteristic of settler societies was their levels of urbanization. Urban population surpassed rural population earlier than in most industrialized economies in Europe. This process was to put severe strains on these countries. High population growth and urbanization pressed higher demands on the society for investment in population sensitive capital: schools, hospitals, housing, public transportation, and social capital in general.

      In order to supply the necessary infrastructure, service and industrial sectors had to make extraordinary progress. It has been the role of the state to sustain the viability of the export-led model in general by undertaking capital investments in transportation and social capital.  The governments of settler societies were all committed to development, and to the belief that capitalism was the most promising mode of production for achieving it.

Argentine Political and Economic Situation after 1860

          The period from 1860 to 1914 is one of the most important in Argentine history. While the first five decades after independence (1810-1860) were marked by persistent political instability and relative isolation of the provinces, it began to change when the Battle of Pavón (1861) led to unification of the disparate provincial governments under a single national government. The consequences were profound. The rise of Buenos Aires established a new political situation. Economic changes were equally dramatic and signaled the rise of a powerful new group: the landowners of Buenos Aires. After independence, the old colonial centers suffered with the dissolution of the colonial economy and were unable to create a national market where Buenos Aires would provide  the market for their products. Instead, Buenos Aires was supplied with imports from Europe which the city was able to afford with rapidly growing exports. While the interior provinces demanded protection for their local industries, Buenos Aires pursued free trade. This basic conflict was behind several decades of political instability during which control of the country's political institutions and trade policy-making became the foremost political issue. This period saw changes in the international system, i.e., the rise of the United Kingdom and the industrial revolution in which international trade acted as the main conduit for change.

Argentine Population, 1860-1914  

          The Argentine population in 1860 was dramatically low. The problem was so acute that one of Argentina's most important intellectuals, Juan Bautista Alberdi, summed up the role of the state with the now famous dictum "Gobernar es Poblar" or "To Govern is to Populate."10]   The first national census in 1869 reported a population of less than 1,800,000. It rose to 4,000,000 for the second census in 1895; and it almost doubled to 8,000,000 for the third census in 1914. This was the result of high natural growth rates and of mass immigration mainly from Europe.11   Despite population growth, however, labor shortages continued.12

      As a result of mass overseas migration particularly of single male workers, men continually outnumbered women in Argentina during this period. As a result the population showed high masculinity indexes well into the twentieth century.

Table 2                       Population of Argentina by Gender, Census Years





Masculinity Index
















Source: Own elaboration from census data.

      Argentina lacked a large labor reserve pool.13   This was a critical obstacle in a settler society such as Argentina where a national bourgeoisie was trying to establish a wage labor market in the absence of capital and labor. There were, however, significant regional differences in labor distribution.  In fact, the Pampa region emerged as the most populous region of Argentina displacing the old colonial core of the northwest. The densely populated provinces of the northwest became sources of internal migration.14   These movements reflected in part the push factor of declining regional economies and in part the pull of expanding production in the Pampa region. Other regions received a large number of internal migrants that in some instances exceeded the number of foreign immigrants. Internal migrants were drawn to the wine and sugar industries while others constituted seasonal laborers in logging, cane-cutting, ranching operations, and railway and public works construction. Still, internal migration was not able to supply large numbers of laborers compared to the needs of the expanding economy.

      Since natural population growth and internal migration were not large enough to remedy labor shortages, overseas migration played a major role in the labor market.15   Between 1860 and 1920, almost 5,000,000 immigrants arrived in Argentina (slightly more than half of them stayed permanently). The Argentine labor market showed a remarkable degree of flexibility for several reasons. First, the rate of growth in the labor force was not fixed because it was not the result of natural population growth. Moreover, whenever the economy slumped, overseas workers simply left the country. This prevented the accumulation of excess labor.

      At the beginning of the process, labor was particularly scarce in the potentially most dynamic sector: agriculture. Rural population in the Pampa region, especially in the province of Buenos Aires, had started to rise in the 1850s as a consequence of the shift towards sheep-raising, but the region remained underpopulated in the 1860s.16   Labor scarcity was a critical obstacle for the continued expansion of farming. The obvious solution was to attract large numbers of immigrants. It is estimated that 90 percent of immigrants settled in the Pampa region and that 25 percent of them, or some 800,000 people, settled in rural areas.17 While rural population growth made possible a more intensive use of land, labor continued to be a limiting factor. Wage labor demand was met through the importation of seasonal laborers. Extensive agriculture called for a large number of extra laborers at harvest time for whom the economy offered no other work at other seasons. Because of their seasonal migration, they became known in Argentina as golondrinas or swallows.18

      Urbanization accelerated during the period.  The proportion of the population living in urban centers rose from 28 percent in 1869 to 53 percent in 1914.  Moreover, the share of cities of more than 20,000 people rose from 24 percent in 1895 to 36 percent in 1914.19   Urbanization revealed significant regional contrasts. It was more important in the Pampa region which held the three largest cities of the country.

      One important aspect of urbanization in Argentina is the growth of urban labor. A dynamic export sector spurred the establishment of supporting services in the cities.  However not all of the growth in urban labor was in services. Manufacturing emerged as a significant employer at the end of the nineteenth century. In turn, the state became a major source of white-collar jobs. Urbanization became associated with the growth of the industrial and service sectors on the one hand and the growth of the middle and working classes on the other. The working class in the urban centers of the Pampa region was large, markedly immigrant, and included many seasonal workers who alternated between the city and the countryside.20

      Changes in the occupational structure were significant. The proportion of the population employed in agriculture dropped continuously between 1869 and 1914 while employment in services increased steadily. On the other hand employment in industries fell between 1869 and 1895 and then rose between 1895 and 1914. This trend in industrial employment is explained by two factors. First railroad connections with Buenos Aires after 1875 led to the decline of the industries of the interior (particularly textiles). Railways facilitated the opening of the national economy to foreign competition and led to the demise of many traditional artisan activities in the 1870s and 1880s. The other factor is the very rapid growth in urban labor that followed the economic crisis of 1890.21

      Changes in labor force participation are difficult to assess because of the inconsistency of data. Based on an upwardly biased definition, the 1869 Census established that 84.5 percent of the population over the age of 14 was economically active. Later censuses revealed participation rates of 67.1 percent in 1895 and 64.3 percent in 1914. This pattern is described in the literature as a U-curve: with relatively high participation levels at the early and late stages of economic development and relatively low levels at the intermediate ones.22   Lower participation rates started to reflect better analytical tools by census takers (attention was paid to scrupulous discrimination between economically active and non-economically active population such as students, children, the infirm, paupers, etc.), higher standards of living, a shift from public to private (and non-compensated) activities for women, and legal efforts to restrict child labor. The 1880s marked the beginning of a secular reduction in female participation levels which reversed in 1950 and clearly rose after 1960.  However, it is also evident that this decrease in both male and female labor force participation reflected broader social and economic changes.

Table 3                       Population with Occupations by Sex, Census Data

















Source: Own elaboration from census data.

Table 4                       Employment Sectoral Distributions, Census Years





I-Primary Sector




II-Secondary Sector














III-Tertiary Sector









(I through IV)





(14 years or over)




Participation Rate (A/B)




Source: Own elaboration from census data.

Female Employment

           Women constituted an important proportion in the tobacco industry (cigar-making), in the glass factories, and in the laundry and ironing services. They were particularly employed in the production of cloth and clothing. In 1869, spinners and seamstresses constituted 69 percent of all employment in the secondary sector. By 1914, this had changed; and they represented only 20 percent of all employment in the secondary sector. What accounts for this decline?

       The loss of thousands of textile jobs, particularly affecting women, is traditionally linked to the free trade policies favored by the landed oligarchy that took firm control of Argentina after 1880.  These policies, it is argued, did not change until 1930.23   Other authors have already pointed out that tariff levels were not necessarily low during the period making this explanation unsatisfactory.24   In addition, it is predicated on the mistaken assumption that trade liberalization started after 1880. Argentina had actually embraced free trade since its independence from Spain in 1810.25 The first post-independence governments dropped all colonial restrictions and adopted free trade. Despite this change in policy, artisanal manufacturing which existed in the interior regions of Argentina since colonial rule continued. For decades after independence these activities managed to survive employing thousands of weavers and spinners.

      Beginning in the 1870s, however, the rapid expansion of railroads made possible the transportation of cheap European imports at low cost. As a result, textile production in the interior declined. Government policy with regards to tariffs was subject to the immediate demands of well-organized and powerful pressure groups. Without national or regional trade organizations, female workers lacked the means to lobby for tariffs on imported goods that would have protected their jobs.

      What happened to all these female workers? Where did they go? Beginning in the 1880s, women made their presence increasingly felt in urban manufacturing and service activities. While in the past large numbers of women had worked in textile manufacturing as spinners, they were now seen in the garment industry cloth-making, bag-making, shoe-making, and dress-making. Thus the decline of female employment was more dramatic among spinners engaged in the textile trade than among workers in the garment trade. Although falling in relative terms, in 1914 there were an estimated 60,000 women engaged in out-work, the majority in dress-making which had managed to grow in absolute numbers. The workshops of the seamstresses were usually in the same homes in which they lived. Many of these were married women for young, single women workers generally preferred to go out to work in the factories. They were attracted by higher wages, prospects of emancipation, and the fact that they did not need to buy their own tools and materials.26

Table 5                       Selected Female Occupations, Census Years






























Source: Own elaboration from census data.

          The growing complexity of a dynamic economy created many new opportunities for women as linotypists, telephone operators, clerks, etc. Higher income levels are even reflected in some occupations: rentiers and landladies. Urbanization and mass migration were additional factors in the shift of female employment from agricultural (rural) activities and manufacturing (artisan) activities to urban service activities. Agricultural employment declined in relative terms, and a significant number of these jobs were taken by overseas male workers. While women had been important participants in agricultural activities in the past, their roles became increasingly redefined as mothers and daughters rather than workers, and their domestic labor and other activities were not compensated monetarily.

      If a certain and very visible proportion of women were now employed in modern urban factories, businesses, and state institutions; the vast majority were still engaged in home-based activities. The censuses reveal a universe of personal service activities and domestic tasks in which women were engaged as cooks, servants, maids, nannies (compensated and non-compensated), and care-givers, to name a few occupations.

      There was considerable debate on the role of women in society and the labor market. This debate reflected profound changes in the relation between the state and society. The construction of the Argentine nation-state and a capitalist market required the increasing penalization of sporadic and marginal forms of labor and the formation of waged labor. This disciplining of the labor force led to a gradual withdrawal of women  particularly those engaged in irregular forms of employment. Social groups and institutions, including political parties, civic associations, the Catholic Church, and schools constructed a moralizing discourse condemning female participation in the labor force particularly in occupations that were not traditionally viewed as women's work. Teachers and nurses were occupations that increasingly came to be associated with "feminine" qualities such as care-giving and child-rearing. These were acceptable occupations for single, young female workers, athough, there was an understanding that after marriage they would withdraw from the labor market. Occupations that conflicted with their reproductive and domestic roles, such as journalists, artists, politicians,and trade unionists were considered unacceptable.27

      Labor leaders were divided on the issue.  While socialists were in favor of women working as an instrument of women's emancipation, trade unions and anarchists argued that it devalued the family and led to serious problems in the health and education of children. The general argument was that women were forced to work by the evil nature of capitalism.  However, since women were paid less than male workers, their presence in the labor market was regarded as threatening because it depressed wages. The search for unity across gender divisions within the working movement was impeded by the paternalism of business owners, foremen, and male labor leaders.28


      The period from 1860 to 1914 is one of the most important in Argentine history, and some of its features continue to generate vigorous debate. The fall of female employment is one such noticeable feature. To date authors have offered two explanations: the first one, the impact of cheap foreign imports on domestic textile manufacturing, has been the traditional and most widely accepted explanation. The other, the construction of a female gender role as part of the construction of a modern nation state, has received considerable attention in recent years. Both explanations are limited, partial, and tend to confuse the available evidence. The role Argentina played in the world economy during 1860-1914, a period sometimes referred to as the first globalization, resulted in significant social and economic changes. The data reveal an altered regional and social make-up caused by the growing complexity of a modern capitalist economy. Traditional manufacturing activities declined in importance; agricultural activities became increasingly mechanized and dominated by wage labor; urbanization and service activities particularly those in the non-tradable sector of the economy expanded considerably.

      An important feature of female labor participation in Argentina during the period from 1860 to 1914 is its variation. Female employment in rural activities and traditional industrial activities declined in both absolute and relative terms, but it rose in urban activities and service activities. Female employment also varied by region. Employment in traditional industrial activities declined everywhere but more markedly in the northwestern and western regions of Argentina. It expanded dramatically, however, in the urban centers of the dynamic Pampa region. The picture of female labor participation in Argentina during period from 1860 to 1914 that emerges is one of complexity and change.

      It has been argued that female employment in the manufacturing sector (textiles) fell during the second half of the nineteenth century as a consequence of the free trade policies of the administration that took power after 1880. This paper has argued that free trade had already been a policy for many decades, however, and that the effects of free trade were not fully felt until after the 1870s when railroad connections created a national market. In addition, women found new employment opportunities in the manufacturing sector within the garment industry.  

           It has also been argued that the decline in agricultural employment particularly affected women since their roles became increasingly redefined as mothers and daughters, and their domestic labor was not compensated. There is evidence to support this argument. This paper has argued, however, that there was a shift towards modern urban activities driven by a dynamic export economy and growing capitalist specialization. Women found new niches in this sector of the economy: some in public spaces (salaried factory jobs); some in private homes (maids). These did not necessarily translate into higher status or higher wages, but they did open alternatives to falling agricultural and traditional artisanal employment.

      Finally, the efforts behind the construction of a nation-state and a wage labor market were reflected in a new moralizing discourse which condemned the role of women outside of their "natural" place in the home. In this idealized bourgeois society, they were supposed to become wives to their husbands, mothers to their children, and occasionally administrators of a small army of servants to run the household. Legislation aimed at penalizing irregular labor and disciplining workers directly affected women in the labor market.  This pushed women without regular jobs to search for jobs in the growing urban markets where their choices for independent work were starkly divided between becoming a prostitute and finding employment as a servant of a well-off family.

      This paper does not necessarily dispute the validity of earlier explanations but highlights their limitations. Both male and female levels of participation in the paid labor force diminished as economic development progressed. Though female participation levels started to fall first, the data show similar behavior for both men and women. This suggests that issues surrounding female employment need to be analyzed against the background of rapidly changing settler society. The data reveal changes caused by global forces and the growing complexity of a modern capitalist economy. Traditional manufacturing activities declined in importance; agricultural activities became increasingly mechanized and dominated by wage labor; urbanization and service activities, particularly those in the non-tradable sector of the economy, expanded considerably. What we see is a shift away from both rural and urban traditional activities to modern and specialized capitalist forms of labor. In this brave new world some women (and some men) found new promising opportunities, while others were clearly losers in this process of change.

Biography: Cristian A. Harris is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at North Georgia College and State University in Dahlonega, Georgia where he teaches International Relations and Latin American Politics.



1 Data for this paper are extracted from Argentine national censuses of 1869, 1895 and 1914.

2 Several other terms have been used to discuss these societies:  "new lands," "new countries," "open spaces," "frontier societies," "lands of recent settlement," or "regions of recent settlement." These differing terms reflect the uncoordinated study effort of scholars more than a serious disagreement over the subject matter. There is however disagreement over which countries qualify as settler societies.  Nurkse includes South Africa and the southern part of Brazil in this group.  See Ragnar Nurkse, "International Investment Today in the Light of Nineteenth Century Experience," Economic Journal 64 (1954), 748n.  Chile and Russia are sometimes included.  See John P. Fogarty, "The Comparative Method and the Nineteenth Century Regions of Recent Settlement," Historical Studies 19.76 (April 1981), 412-429; J. W. McCarty, "Australia as a Region of Recent Settlement in the Nineteenth Century," Australian Economic History Review 13 (1973), 148-167; Barrie Dyster, "Argentine and Australian Development Compared," Past and Present 84 (1979), 91-110; and A. E. Dingle and D. T. Merrett, eds., Argentina and Australia:  Essays in Comparative Economic Development, (Clayton, Victoria: Economic History Society of Australia and New Zealand, 1985).  For a survey of the literature from a wide array of perspectives, see Graeme Wynn, "Settler Societies in Geographical Focus," Historical Studies 20.80 (April 1983), 353-366; Tim Duncan and John Fogarty, Australia and Argentina:  On Parallel Paths, (Melbourne:  Melbourne University Press, 1984); and Louis Hartz, The Founding of New Societies:  Studies in the History of the U.S., Latin America, South Africa, Canada and Australia, (New York:  Harcourt, Brace and World, 1964).

3  James Foreman-Peck, A History of the World Economy:  International Economic Relations Since 1850, (London: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1995); and A. G. Kenwood and A. L. Lougheed, The Growth of the International Economy, 1820-1990:  An Introductory Text, (London and New York:  Routledge, 1992).

4 Jeremy Adelman, Frontier Development:  Land, Labour, and Capital on the Wheatlands of Argentina and Canada, 1890-1914, (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994), 2.

5 Albert O. Hirschman, The Strategy of Economic Development, (New Haven:  Yale University Press, 1958); Ragnar Nurkse, Patterns of Trade and Development, (Oxford:  Oxford University Press, 1962), 13-17; and W. Arthur Lewis, The Evolution of the International Economic Order, (Princeton, N.J.:  Princeton University Press, 1978), 67-75.

6 McCarty, Australia, 148.

7 Others countries and regions like Peru, Ceylon, and Indochina participated in the world economic expansion of the 1840-1914 period. Their experiences however were different from those of settler societies. See Angus Maddison, Phases of Capitalist Development, (Oxford:  Oxford University Press, 1982), 43-63.

8 It is a common proposition that these countries depended on world trade for their development. Nurkse argues that trade-led growth explained the development of settler societies.  Nurkse, Patterns, 23.  Dependentistas called it "outward" growth. See Fernando Henrique Cardoso and Enzo Faletto, Dependency and Development in Latin America, (Berkeley:  University of California Press, 1979); and Osvaldo Sunkel and Pedro Paz, El Subdesarrollo Latinoamericano y la Teoría del Desarrollo, (México, D.F.:  Editorial Siglo XXI, 1970).  For others, this export-led growth had a less significant role.  See N. G. Butlin, "Growth in a Trading World:  The Australian Economy, Heavily Disguised," Business Archives and History 4 (1964), 138-158.

9 For example, Deborah Oxley, Convict Maids: The Forced Migration of Women to Australia, (Melbourne:  Cambridge University Press, 1996); A. E. Dingle, Aboriginal Economy: Patterns of Experience, C. B. Schedvin, ed., (Melbourne:  McPhee Gribble Publishers, 1989); May Dawn, Aboriginal Labour and the Cattle Industry:Queensland from White Settlement to the Present, (Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 1994); Katrina Alford, Production or Reproduction? An Economic History of Women in Australia, 1788-1850, (Melbourne:  Oxford University Press, 1984) and Gordon Laxer, ed., Perspectives on Canadian Economic Development: Class, Staples, Gender and Elites, (Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1991).

10 Juan Bautista Alberdi, Bases y Puntos de Partida para la Organización Política de la Rep“blica Argentina, (Buenos Aires: Editorial Plus Ultra, 1981), 238.

11 From 1860 to 1914, 40% of the total increase in population was accounted for by immigration.  Moreover immigrants accounted for a great number of newborns.  See Alfredo E. Lattes, "Las Migraciones de la Argentina entre Mediados del Siglo XIX y 1960," Desarrollo Económico 12.48 (1973), 856.  Rock notes the fall in death rates as another contributing factor.  See David Rock, Argentina, 1516-1982: From Spanish Colonization to the Falklands War, (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1985), 165.

12 Labor scarcity was a common complaint among producers.  Ezequiel Gallo, La Pampa Gringa: Colonización Agrícola en Santa Fe, 1870-1895, (Buenos Aires: Editorial Sudamericana, 1984), 225-229; Adelman, Frontier Development, 104.

13 Although estimates vary, there were probably no more than 300,000 indigenous people in the area which is now Argentina when the Spaniards arrived.  Aldo Ferrer, The Argentine Economy, (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1967), 24.

14 Gallo, Pampa Gringa, 275-278; Roberto Cortés Conde, El Progreso Argentino, 1880-1914, (Buenos Aires: Editorial Sudamericana, 1979), 68-72; and Roberto Cortés Conde and Ezequiel Gallo, La Formación de la Argentina Moderna, (Buenos Aires: Editorial Paidós, 1973), 81-83.  Adelman however minimizes the impact of internal migration.  Adelman, Frontier Development, 107.

15 Gustavo Beyhaut, Roberto Cortés Conde, Haydée Gorostegui, and Susana Torrado, "Los Immigrantes en el Sistema Ocupacional Argentino," in Argentina: Sociedad de Masas, Torcuato S. Di Tella et al., (Buenos Aires:  Editorial Universitaria de Buenos Aires, 1971), 85-123.

16 Horacio Giberti, Historia Económica de la Ganadería Argentina, (Buenos Aires: Hyspamérica, 1985), 156; Rock, Argentina, 134; and Hilda Sábato, "Trabajar para Vivir o Vivir para Trabajar:  Empleo Ocasional y Escasez de Mano de Obra en Buenos Aires, Ciudad y Campaña, 1850-1880," in Población y Mano de Obra en América Latina, Nicolás Sánchez-Albornoz, ed., (Madrid:  Alianza Editorial, 1985), 169-174.

17 Ferrer, Argentine Economy, 92.

18 On an average year, 300,000 laborers would be needed to pick the harvest, between 100,000 and 150,000 of which were golondrinas.  The vast majority were Italian.  These laborers made the transatlantic trip during the spring and summer season in Argentina and then returned to Europe in time for the harvest there.  Cortés Conde, Progreso Argentino, 199-202; Adelman, Frontier Development, 104-130.

19 Cortés Conde and Gallo, Formación Argentina, 82-83.

20 Rock, Argentina, 175.

21 Cortés Conde and Gallo, Formación Argentina, 83-85.

22 See Zulma Recchini de Lattes, Dynamics of the Female Labour Force in Argentina, (Paris: UNESCO, 1983).

23 See Dorfman, Historia de la Industria, and Chiaramonte, Nacionalismo y Liberalismo.

24 See Carlos F. Díaz Alejandro, Essays on the Economic History of the Argentine Republic, (New Haven:  Yale University Press, 1970).

25 This is the date of the successful May 1810 revolt against the Spanish colonial administration in Buenos Aires. The official date of independence is July 9, 1816.

26 Ronaldo Munck, Ricardo Falcón, and Bernardo Galitelli, Argentina:  From Anarchism to Peronism.  Workers, Unions and Politics, 1855-1985, (London:  Zed Books Ltd., 1987), 45.

27 Donna J. Guy, Sex and Danger in Buenos Aires:  Prostitution, Family and Nation in Argentina, (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1991).

28 Munck et. al, Argentina,  46.







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