Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

Religion as a Factor Influencing Turkish Women's Decisions to Work

Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

Religion as a Factor Influencing Turkish Women's Decisions to Work

Article excerpt


This article uses survey data collected from more than 500 women in Istanbul to examine whether or not religion exerts an influence on women's decisions to work or not. Our work revealed that religion does not appear to have a direct impact on whether or not Turkish women choose to work. Rather the expectation that women fulfill their traditional roles as caregivers proves a greater obstacle for women who wish to enter the labor market. Religion, in the case of Turkey, Islam, can only be seen as an influence on Turkish women's work decisions to the extent that it supports "patriarchal mentalities" which define women first and foremost as mothers and caregivers.

Keywords: Turkish women, Religious beliefs; labor force; working decisions, survey


Turkey has the lowest female labor force participation rates in OECD countries with just 26.6 percent for women aged 15-64 in 2007. This rate is even lower for urban women. Moreover, the female civilian employment rate of Turkey was 26.1 percent as a percentage of civilian employment in 2007 (OECD 2008). The low female labor force participation rates of Turkey compare rather unfavorably with some other OECD countries that have female participation rates around 80 percent. The female labor force participation rates of OECD countries are given in Table 1.

Despite rising education rates, the number of women working for pay in Turkey has continued to decline in recent decades plunging from 72 percent in 1955 to the current rate which hovers in the low twenties (Ayslt Tansel 2002). Furthermore, female labor force participation rates have been declining over the past decades. It was 36 percent in 1990 and declined to 26.6 percent in 2007. However, the female labor force participation rates have increased in most OECD countries (and also in most developed countries) in this same period, except in Sweden, Denmark, and three former-Communist countries (Czech Republic, Poland, and Slovak Republic). Despite the small decrease observed in female labor force participation rates in Sweden and Denmark, the current rates in these countries still remain high.

The question remains what has caused such a precipitous decline and what is it that continues to keep women in Turkey from entering the labor force. Our research focuses on whether or not religion, in this case Islam, is a factor influencing women's choice to work or not. Based on survey data, the results indicate that religion appears to exert little or no influence on women's decisions not to work, at the same time, overall, the women we surveyed overwhelmingly support the idea of women working.

Religion and Economics

Since Weber (1905) asserted the importance of religion to social change and economic growth, there has been an interest in trying to determine the effects of religion on economics. Iannoccone (1998) writing early in the development of the subfield of religion and economics divided the literature in this area into three main categories: the interpretation of religion from an economic perspective which applies economics in an attempt to explain religious behavior; research which explores the economic implications of religion, and finally the work of those who use various sacred texts and scripture to evaluate economic policies. While many scholars are unwilling to draw a direct causal link between religion and economic achievement, there are a number of studies which trace links between religious attitudes and factors that contribute to a positive economic environment. On the large scale, Putnam traced the lack of development in southern Italy to a culture where trust between individuals is replaced by faith in the Catholic Church (1993). Landes (1998) and Stulz and Williamson (2003) also attribute lagging developing and prosperity in Catholic countries to the Catholic Church's culture of intolerance and tradition again money lending. …

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