Micro- and Macrolevel Determinants of Women's Employment in Six Arab Countries

By Spierings, Niels; Smits, Jeroen et al. | Journal of Marriage and Family, October 2010 | Go to article overview

Micro- and Macrolevel Determinants of Women's Employment in Six Arab Countries


Spierings, Niels, Smits, Jeroen, Verloo, Mieke, Journal of Marriage and Family


We analyzed determinants of women's employment with data for 40,792 women living in 103 districts of 6 Arab countries. We tested a new theoretical framework that addresses the roles of needs, opportunities, and values at multiple levels. At the microlevel (individual, family), socioeconomic factors, care duties, and traditionalism were important; at the macrolevel (district), economic development and societal norms were important. Women's education seemed most influential. Interaction analyses showed that returns on women's education depended on their partner's education and on the economic development, labor market structure, urbanization, and strength of traditional norms in the district in which women live. Our results stress the importance of a comprehensive approach toward women's employment in these countries.

Key Words: employment, families and work, Middle Eastern families, multilevel models.

The Arab Human Development Report emphasizes women's empowerment as one of the main targets of human development in the Arab world (UN Development Programme, Regional Bureau for Arab States [UNDP], 2006). An important aspect of women's empowerment and well-being concerns their formal economic participation, which in the Arab countries of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) is among the lowest in the world (Moghadam, 2004; UNDP, 2006).

It is widely acknowledged that greater insight is needed into the incentives and restrictions that affect women's employment in this region (Moghadam, 2003; UNDP, 2006), but existing theories and empirical analyses are limited and rather fragmented. Studies often have focused on only a few factors, such as culture (Jansen, 2004), education (Elmi & Noroozi, 2007), and economic development (Pampel & Tanaka, 1986; Tansel, 2002). Research has tended to be restricted to only one level of analysis - the macrolevel (Moghadam, 2003; Tansel, 2002) or the microlevel (Gündüz-Hocgör & Smits, 2008; Khattab, 2002) - and interactions among levels have been neglected.

Here, we address these problems and go beyond prior work in three important ways. First, we present an encompassing theoretical framework that structures the multitude of influences on women's employment. This framework distinguishes three conditions affecting women's employment that manifest themselves differently at different levels of analysis: needs, opportunities, and values. Second, besides direct influences, the framework allows for interactions across levels. This increases the possibilities of studying determinants in their specific context. Third, these theoretical steps forward are accompanied by the use of unique empirical material: representative data for more than 40,000 women in six MENA countries (Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Syria, and Tunisia). Our analyses reveal how characteristics of women themselves, of their households, and of the district that they live in influence women's employment in these countries. Given the acknowledged importance of women's education for their employment (e.g., Gündüz-Hosgör & Smits, 2008; Moghadam, 1998), we study the role of education in more detail by focusing on how contextual characteristics shape education's effects.

The research questions we address in this article are the following: (a) What is the degree of women's employment in the six MENA countries? (b) Which micro- and macrolevel factors are the (major) determinants of women's employment in these countries? (c) How do characteristics of the context women live in moderate the effects of women's educational attainment?

A COMPREHENSIVE FRAMEWORK

Current research on women's employment in Arab countries suffers from several problems. First, macrolevel studies dominate the field (e.g., Miles, 2002; Moghadam, 1998, 2003; Tansel, 2002) and provide little insight into the factors that drive the decisions of individual women - the agents. The few studies that have addressed the behavior of individual women tend to ignore the economic, political, and cultural structure in which these women live (e. …

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