Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Women's Family Power and Gender Preference in Minya, Egypt

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Women's Family Power and Gender Preference in Minya, Egypt

Article excerpt

Structural and ideational theories are adapted to explore the influence of women's resources and ideational exposures on their family power and gender preferences in Minya, Egypt. Data from a household survey of 2,226 married women aged 15-54 years show that residence with marital kin decreases women's family power. Women in endogamous marriages have greater family power than women in nonendogamous marriages but still tend to prefer sons. Educated women report weaker son preference and greater influence in decisions but still tend to prefer sons. The positive association of women's education, paid work, and urban residence with a variable measuring girl or equal preference and family power suggests that selected resources and ideational exposures may improve girls' well-being in Minya.

Key Words: Egypt, family power, gender, gender preferences, ideation, resources.

In settings where parents rely on children for security in old age and where social, economic, and legal institutions are highly patriarchal, the real and perceived utility of having sons over daughters (Coombs, Coombs, & McClelland, 1975) becomes part of the normative environment that shapes decisions about care (Arnold, 1992; Goodkind, 1996; Kishor, 1993). Given such settings, scholars debate whether women's access to and control over resources will improve the well-being of girls. Some argue that more educated women will better implement their preferences for sons (Das Gupta, 1987). Others argue that women with more economic resources will allocate them more equitably to sons and daughters (Barbeau, 1987, in Kurtz & Johnson-Welch, 1997; Thomas, 1990). Still others do not assume that individual preferences are fixed and have modeled the effect of community-level institutions and individual resources on women's power and ideals about gender (Balk, 1997). At the crux of this debate are two questions: In patriarchal settings, which familial and extrafamilial resources and constraints influence a woman's power in decisions related to her children? And, do a woman's extrafamilial resources and ideational exposures influence her gender preferences in such settings?

Here, I integrate structural and ideational theories to address these questions in Minya, Egypt. I broaden Brinton's (1988) theory of the institutional and familial bases of gender stratification processes to include socioeconomic resources and constraints within and beyond the marital home. I argue that these resources and constraints affect a woman's influence in decisions pertaining to her children. I also adapt Thornton's (2001) theory of developmental idealism to explore whether a woman's extrafamilial exposures to ideals about gender are associated with her preferences for sons and daughters. Using population-based data from Minya, I test the simultaneous effects of women's resources and ideational exposures on their gender preferences and influence in domestic and life course decisions related to children.

Structural and Familial Bases of Gender Stratification Processes

Brinton (1988) argues that the educational system and labor market are critical to gender stratification processes that differentiate and rank women relative to men because these institutions affect the timing of educational and other investments in people. Where the timing of such decisions is condensed, Brinton argues that there are fewer points in the life cycle at which such investments can occur. In Egypt, among women aged 25-49 years, the median age at marriage is 19.5 years (El-Zanaty & Way, 2001), and women rarely continue their education after marriage. Only 25% of ever-married women of reproductive age have ever worked for cash, with 8% working only before marriage and 17% working after marriage (El-Zanaty, Hussein, Shawky, Way, & Kishor, 1996). Thus, investments in women's education in Egypt occur largely before marriage, and paid work often remains secondary to women's familial duties. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.