The Economic History Review

Women’s pay in British industry during the Second World War

Volume 61 Issue 3
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Pages: 651-671Authors: IAN GAZELEY
Published online: July 9, 2008DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-0289.2007.00412.x

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This article reviews the evidence pertaining to changes in women’s relative pay during the Second World War and presents new evidence relating to important wartime manufacturing industries. It is argued that gender pay inequality declined sharply where women were employed in industries that had previously been dominated by men, but did not occur in industries that had traditionally been important areas of female employment. The explanation for this pattern probably lies in a combination of excess demand effects and institutional factors, both of which were strongest in wartime munitions industries. Because of the importance of these industries to the war economy, the behaviour of inequality in munitions dominates the behaviour of inequality across all industries. Nearly all existing scholarship acknowledges the impact of the Second World War on reducing the employment segregation of women, but simultaneously views the war as an unimportant episode in the history of gender pay inequality. This article shows how the transition from ‘female’ to ‘male’ work also led to a significant improvement in women’s relative pay.