Academic journal article Economic Inquiry

Women and Tariffs: Testing the Gender Gap Hypothesis in a Downs-Mayer Political-Economy Model

Academic journal article Economic Inquiry

Women and Tariffs: Testing the Gender Gap Hypothesis in a Downs-Mayer Political-Economy Model

Article excerpt

"I am convinced that at least two out of every three women have a grudge against the tariff, and a grudge which is all too frequently increased to an indignation by the subtle suggestion, on the part of importers and retailers, that the tariff adds to the prices of the things they buy. It is the women of the household who spend the husband's earnings-she has to make them go around, and anything which she is told adds to the prices of the things she buys naturally finds little excuse in her mind. Her attitude, regardless of logic, is a natural one. She doesn't stop to consider the part the tariff may have played in making her husband's earnings what they are, or in fact in making them possible at all, nor does she stop to consider the relatively minor part the tariff plays in the retail prices of the things she buys. She has never seen the tariff law, and so she cannot know that with such commodities as coal, coffee, tea, cocoa, furs and shoes on the free list, some explanation other than the tariff must account for the increased price of these things." (Barbour, 1928)(1)

The notion that women and men hold systematically differing political preferences, that there is a "gender gap," is an old one in American politics. Even before the national enfranchisement of women in 1920, analysts and commentators attempted to identify issues on which such a gender gap would affect policy outcomes. One such issue was the tariff, with which we are concerned in this paper. The above passage from the January 1928 issue of the Tariff Review serves as an excellent text for our sermon. The logic of the argument is interesting: American women prefer a low tariff because a high tariff raises the prices of the things they purchase. Our paper represents this hypothesis as an extension of the Downs [1957]-Mayer [1984] political-economy model and then presents a simple empirical test of the hypothesis.

We present our analysis in four major parts. First, we set the stage with a brief discussion of the political-economy of the tariff during the period relevant to our analysis [18901934]. This discussion provides motivation for the details of the more formal analysis in the following section. Next we develop the logic of the classic tariff system in the context of the Downs-Mayer model. The third section presents the testable proposition that the enfranchisement of women results in a lower equilibrium tariff as an implication of this model. In the final section we present our methodology and results.


It is not unreasonable to think of the period from the end of the Civil War until 1934 as the era of classic tariff politics in the United States. During this period the tariff was a significant, partisan, electoral issue. Republicans were the party of the protective tariff, Democrats were opposed to the "tariff system." While there was regional variation with respect to details at the level of specific products, this characterization is quite accurate over the entire period with respect to overall commitment to the tariff system. Whether one studies political platforms or campaign speeches, this split between Republicans and Democrats remains clear.(2) Furthermore, there seems to be a fairly direct relationship between sectional economic interests and strength of partisan support: the industrial northeast was the historical center of Republicanism, while the rural south and mid-west was the center of Democrat support.

Another important aspect of the electoral politics during the era of classic tariff politics (from the perspective of this paper) was the essential one-dimensionality of "the tariff" as an issue.(3) That is, partisan conflict revolved primarily around support for, and opposition to, the tariff system - not the details of the tariff structure. It is important to recall that, during this period, the tariff was one of the few instruments of industrial policy available to the national government and, at least since the end of the Civil War, the tariff as an electoral issue was explicitly presented by both Democrats and Republicans as a system of support for American industry. …

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