Academic journal article Demographic Research

The Gendered Effects of Labour Market Experiences on Marriage Timing in Egypt

Academic journal article Demographic Research

The Gendered Effects of Labour Market Experiences on Marriage Timing in Egypt

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

Across the Arab region the economic challenges young people face are believed to impede their timely entry into marriage (Dhillon 2007; Hasso 2011; Singerman 2007). This is also true in Egypt, the region's most populous country. Many Egyptians report that financing marriage and supporting a new household is more difficult today than it was in the past (Hoodfar 1997; Singerman 1995), causing youth to postpone union formation. Among Egyptians born in 1940, the median age at first marriage was 25 for men and 17 for women; in the 1970 birth cohort, this age rose to 28 for men and 20 for women (Assaad, Binzel, and Gadallah 2010). Some view this sustained increase (Mensch, Singh, and Casterline 2005; Rashad and Osman 2005) as a welcome development in a country where the population growth rate is high and where many women wed during adolescence (Singerman and Ibrahim 2003). However, many Egyptians today perceive young people's inability to marry at the time of their choosing as a pressing social problem (Salem 2015, 2016). Because marriage is the only socially accepted context for residential independence (Assaad and Barsoum 2009), sexual relations, and childbearing in Egypt (Salem 2015, 2016; Singerman 2007), many young people express frustration with their delayed departure from the parental home (Salem 2010), and some public figures worry that involuntarily single adults experience social exclusion that may lead to so-called moral deviance or religious extremism (Rashed 2006; Slackman 2008). Among scholars (Assaad and Barsoum 2009; Assaad, Binzel, and Gadallah 2010; Singerman 2007), media commentators (Salem 2016), and young people themselves (Hoodfar 1997; Salem 2010; Singerman 1995), the 'social problem' of delayed marriage is linked to economic conditions, particularly labour market conditions, in Egypt.

This paper examines how young people's labour market experiences affect their marriage timing and contributes to existing scholarship in three ways. First, the present study expands upon previous analyses of Egyptian men's transition to marriage, which attribute delayed marriage to young men's inability to secure steady, adequately remunerated, protected employment (Assaad and Barsoum 2009; Assaad, Binzel, and Gadallah 2010; Dhillon, Dyer, and Yousef 2009; Singerman, 2007). It overcomes the limitations of this literature using national panel data that provide appropriately sequenced reports on employment and marriage while controlling for potential sources of spuriousness measured before the outcome of interest, namely, marriage.

Second, this study extends the analyses of labour market experiences and marriage timing to include women. Egyptian women's proportional contributions to marriage expenses have grown over time (Singerman and Ibrahim 2003), and many unmarried women work to accumulate marriage assets (Amin and Al-Bassusi 2004), indicating that women's employment may be as consequential for marriage transitions as men's. The present analysis remedies the limited generalizability of previous small-N qualitative studies by using nationally representative survey data to test the association between women's labour market position and their marriage timing.

Third, in addition to its investigation of employment-related determinants of marriage timing, the present study considers other determinants related to education and urban residence. I quantify the relative weight of these factors by testing them side by side and offer thoughts on how various explanations of the transition to first union may be refined to account for country-level contextual factors.

2. Background

2.1 Employment-related explanations of marriage timing

Existing scholarship on marriage timing tends to focus on the explanatory power of three interrelated individual-level determinants: labour market experiences, education, and urban residence. The first of these, labour market factors, featured prominently in early attempts to explain union formation, which emphasized men's ability to afford marriage (Malthus 1817) and, later, to establish a financially autonomous conjugal household (Goode 1963; Hajnal 1965). …

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