Honours economics student researches women and work
Honours economics student Rosie Cockshutt’s research looks at women and work. Specifically, whether the difference in the cost of living between rural and urban areas affects the choice of women to work in these two areas. She has found some interesting results, but not the ones she was looking for.
According to Cockshutt, women in rural areas tend to participate less in the labour force than women in urban areas.
“We have known this for some time, but no one has figured out why it happens,” she says. “There have been a lot of things proposed: the lack of demand for labour, preferences, and barriers to entry such as access to transport and childcare. None of them have been found to have a huge definitive effect,” says Cockshutt.
Cockshutt wondered whether the higher cost of living in urban areas made it necessary for urban women, who would normally not work, to enter the labour force in order to increase their family income.
Although, she did not have the data she needed to make a comparison of the two areas, she came up with a very clever way around this problem.
“I used the introduction of the Working Income Tax Benefit (WITB), which is a tax benefit available to low-income individuals. I looked at the theory that women in rural areas should be more likely to enter the labour force with this benefit because it is more real income. They can purchase more with it than a similar woman in an urban environment.”
During the summer, Cockshutt, with the help of her advisor economics professor Dr. Craig Brett, tried different approaches to get the information she needed to test her theory. Her research was supported by a Mount Allison University independent summer research grant.
Eventually Cockshutt found that the introduction of the WITB does not have a significant effect on workforce participation.
“So we can’t really conclude anything about cost of living and its effect on labour force participation choices,” she says.
Although this was frustrating for Cockshutt, she did find something interesting in her study.
“No matter how you run the regressions, rural women with children under the age of six or children who aren’t in school, are always more likely to participate in the labour force than urban women with young children,” says Cockshutt. “This is cool because it goes against what previous literature suggested and what people generally assumed. One possible explanation is that in rural areas you are more likely to have unofficial childcare available, like an aunt, or grandmother, or family friend down the street, someone you trust to leave your child with.
Brett says working with Cockshutt was really rewarding.
“Her project was quite interesting,” he says. “She started out with a working hypothesis about the effects of the WITB that the data did not support. Still, she uncovered an interesting fact about the urban-rural divide in female labour force participation. You don't always find what you set out to. If you did, you wouldn't need to do the research," says Brett.
Cockshutt is going to work or travel next year, but after that she plans to go to graduate school and is thinking about studying more labour economics.