Global Gender History

These are my favourite books on global gender history.

*Under construction*

Suggestions are welcome!

East Asia

Molony, Barbara; Choi, Hyaeweol; Theiss, Janet (2016) Gender in Modern East Asia (Westview Press). This is an excellent overview of how gender relations have changed over the past 500 years. If you are new to East Asia, START HERE.

Liu, Jieyu and Yamashita, Junko (2020) Routledge Handbook of East Asian Gender Studies (Routledge). A very good edited collection, spanning family life, work and unpaid care, feminist activism, cultural representations, masculinities, and resistance against militarism.

Choi, Hyeweol (2013) New Women in Colonial Korea: A Sourcebook (Routledge). This is rather unusual: a collection of original sources, showcasing the debates over 'New Women' (autonomy, self-realisation etc). See also 'Debating the New Korean Woman'.

Yoo, Theodore Jun (2014) The Politics of Gender in Colonial Korea (California UP).  In the early 1900s, women were obliged to obey their fathers, husbands, and sons. Elite women were strictly monitored and secluded. Women were ignorant, men were learned. Few women had access to education. Yoo assesses whether colonialism advanced gender equality. Spoiler: no. Actually it was Protestant missionaries that established schools for girls, and this inspired girls' love of learning, as well as more autonomous ideas of self-realisation.

Tsurumi, E. Patricia (1990) Factory Girls: Women in the Thread Mills of Meiji Japan (Princeton UP). Japanese factories sought cheap, docile, female labour in order to become internationally competitive. Heavily indebted poor rural families were sometimes tricked by recruiters. Conditions were horrific. A vivid account.

Kung, Lydia (1995) Factory Women in Taiwan (Columbia UP). By the 1970s, female factory work had become common and widely accepted. But fathers still signed daughters' contracts. They had very limited economic autonomy. To me, this is a very important text: it shows how patriarchal gender relations fifty years ago, and thus how incredible it is that Taiwan's gender pay gap now rivals the USA's.

Bailey, Paul (2012) Women and Gender in Twentieth Century China (Macmillan).

Hershatter, Gail (2014) The Gender of Memory: Rural Women and China's Collective Past (California UP). At the turn of the twentieth century, girls' feet were broken and bound, so they could barely walk let alone run. If visitors called, and only a woman was there, she might answer 'no one is home'. These two books detail how gender relations have since changed. There are many others (e.g. by Croll, Honig, Stacey and Judd), but Bailey provides a particularly clear and comprehensive overview.

Jacka, Tamara (2005) Rural Women in Urban China: Gender, Migration, and Social Change (East Gate). Factory work was gruelling and grim. But by migrating to cities and earning their own incomes, Chinese women's expanded their social networks, increased their economic autonomy, and gained self-esteem.

Thornton, Arland and Lin, Hui-Sheng (1994) Social Change and the Family in Taiwan (Chicago UP). Presents quantitative data about marriage and family life for couples married in the 1950s, 60s, 70s, and 80s. To me, this is very strong evidence of Modernisation Theory: more education, non-familial employment, and urban-residence are progressively associated with greater economic autonomy and weaker kinship ties.

Brinton, Mary C. (ed.) (2002) Women's Working Lives in East Asia (Stanford UP, Chapter 1).

Yu, Wei-Hsin (2009) Gendered Trajectories: Women, Work, & Social Change in Japan & Taiwan (Stanford UP). Taiwan's gender relations are much more egalitarian than its neighbours. Both books suggests this is due to (i) its larger public sector; (ii) unmet demand for highly skilled workers; (iii) the prevalence of small and medium enterprises, which sought to recruit and retain scarce skilled labour, so better accommodated married women workers. Workplace flexibility reduced the gender wage gap. In addition, I would emphasise the importance of activism, upon democratisation.

Nemoto, Kumiko (2016) Too Few Women at the Top: The Persistence of Inequality in Japan (Cornell UP). Nemoto suggests that Japan is caught in a negative feedback loop. Large firms see men as more competent and more reliable, so recruit them for the career track. Educated women are treated as subservient assistants, sent on errands for male colleagues. Even if women do aspire for managerial roles, they struggle to manage social expectations of intensive mothering as well as employers' demands for long work days.

Hong-Fincher, Leta (2014) Leftover Women: The Resurgence of Gender Inequality in China (Zed Books). Details how Confucianism and authoritarianism have reinforced patriarchal dominance and the gender wealth gap, notwithstanding women's scarcity and employment. Read alongside studies of Korea and Taiwan (below) to realise the importance of democratisation, in enabling feminist resistance.

Dong, Xiao-Yuan and Joffre, Veronica Mendizabal (2019) Inclusive Growth in the People’s Republic of China: A Deep Look at Men and Women’s Work Amid Demographic, Technological, and Structural Transformations (ADB). The gender pay gap increased over the 1990s and 2000s - due to marketisation and industrialisation. Men disproportionately benefited from the boom in construction and capital-intensive manufacturing. With cuts to public nurseries, men were also favoured as more reliable, productive workers. Hence their earnings increased. Women were constrained by care burdens and the offshoring of low-end manufacturing. Even if women had degrees, they still faced discrimination. But this paper suggests China has now turned the corner!! There's been a huge expansion of higher-paid jobs in education, health & social services, as well as banking and finance. Women are benefitting from this rising demand for white-collar workers!!, So the gender pay gap among young, educated workers is now closing!!

Jung, Kyungja (2014) Practicing Feminism in South Korea: The women’s movement against sexual violence (Routledge).

Jones, Nicola (2006) Gender and the Political Opportunities of Democratization in South Korea (Palgrave). Women's economic advancement often enables feminist activism. Hence it is surprising that Korea (with its large gender pay gap) has such a strong feminist movement. These two books help us understand gains made: challenging sexual harassment, securing gender quotas, and repealing Family Law, and securing parental leave. Though personally I think they downplay South Korea's especially adversarial, militant labour movement, which may have inspired similar feminist struggles (unlike Japan, which has a more muted movement).

Chang, Doris T. (2009) Women's Movements in Twentieth-Century Taiwan (Illinois UP). Feminism is not new to Taiwan. In the 1920s and 1970s, urban, educated, and internationally-travelled women published and promoted ideas of female autonomy, self-realisation, and gender equality. But their activism was constrained by economic dependence and martial law. With democratisation, Taiwanese feminists ceased to self-censor. Capitalising on their strong labour market position, they formed organisations, became more assertive, and mobilised for reform. They pushed courts to overturn patrilineal family law, secured government action on sexual harassment, and all-party commitment to gender quotas.

South Asia

Historical overviews

Mughal rule



Caste & Gender

Traditional agriculture & long-run effects on gender relations



Why female labour force participation is falling across India

Women's property rights




Sex ratios

Gender-based violence


Cross-cousin marriage


Female seclusion

  • Chowdhry, Prem (1993) Persistence of a Custom: Cultural Centrality of Ghunghat, Social Scientist Vol. 21, No. 9/1

  • Jeffery, Patricia (1979) Frogs in a Well: Indian Women in Purdah (Zed Books);

  • Kantor, Paula (2002) ‘Female Mobility in India: The Influence of Seclusion Norms on Economic Outcomes’. International Development Planning Review; Liverpool 24(2): 145–59.

  • Mandelbaum, David (1986) 'Sex Roles and Gender Relations in North India', Economic & Political Weekly (& his book).

  • Minturn, Leigh (1993) Sita's Daughters: Coming Out of Purdah: The Rajput Women of Khalapur Revisited (OUP).

  • Papanek, Hanna (1973) ‘Purdah: Separate Worlds and Symbolic Shelter. Comparative Studies in Society and History 15(3): 289–325.

Gender relations, broadly

Middle East & North Africa

Latin America & the Caribbean


Sub-Saharan Africa 

Europe & North America

South East Asia














What's missing?

Get in touch, let me know, & I'll gladly update

If you're interested in economic history and/or comparative development,

you will relish my partner's impeccably well-researched, analytically rigorous, and occasionally hilarious blog: 

The above list on global gender history was inspired by his Economic History book recommendations.

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