Publisher/Institution: Population Council Gender andWork in the MENA Region
Abstract: Although research in the Middle East and elsewhere shows that women’s work is associated with greater gender equality in the household, the mechanisms by which work and earnings affect women’s status are poorly understood. Previous research on this topic has identified two important paradoxes. First, Egyptian brides’ contributions to marriage expenses have increased as their earning potential has risen. This contradicts the labor-value perspective, which posits that resources will flow from bride to groom so long as women are economically dependent on men. The second paradox is that women’s work has not resulted in new entitlements for women as modernization narratives would predict. Neither paradox has been assessed using national data that allows other variables to be taken into account. Here I do so while adding a third perspective, the bargaining perspective. This perspective posits that marriage payments made to the bride, as well as assets she herself brings to the marriage, enhance her bargaining position. Women’s employment and earnings after marriage should have the same effect according to this perspective. Analysis of the 2006 Egypt Labor Market Panel Survey panel data is used to test each of the three perspectives and to explore the associations between women’s labor market activity, earnings, absolute and proportional marriage payments, and a measure of women’s status within marriage, namely their decision-making power. Consistent with the existing literature, I find that the labor-value and modernization perspectives are refuted by the ELMPS data. The bargaining perspective is only partially supported by the data.