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The Grammar of Gender

Victor Gay, Estefania Santacreu-Vasut, and Amir Shoham:

[W]e construct four individual dummy variables capturing the intensity of female/male distinctions… for the most commonly spoken language in a country. In Santacreu-Vasut and Shoham (2012) we find that countries whose dominant language marks gender more intensively have significantly lower female labour-force participation rate. We also find that, relative to men, women in those countries work more in services, and less in agriculture. These are robust to controlling for geography, colonial history, religion, and climate…. [H]aving a sex-based gender [language] system decreases female labour-force participation by 12% points compared to having no gender [language] system…. We also find that female/male distinctions in language are related to gender political quotas…. [C]ountries whose dominant language emphasises female/male distinctions more intensively are more likely to formally regulate women's presence in politics through the use of quotas and sanctions for their enforcement. Furthermore, those countries show a sharper increase in female political participation ex post quota adoption….

As Borodistsky et al. (2003, p. 65) argue:

Needing to refer to an object as masculine or feminine may lead people to selectively attend to that object's masculine or feminine qualities, thus making them more salient in the representation. This salience in the grammar of languages may influence the salience of gender in speakers' mind (cognition) and/or may reflect the salience of gender distinctions in the culture…

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