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Female Seclusion from Paid Work: A Social Norm or Cultural Preference?

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  • Mohammad Niaz Asadullah
  • Zaki Wahhaj

Abstract

We propose and empirically test a theory of female paid work participation in a setting with traditional norms of female seclusion. Theoretically, we distinguish between innate preferences for female seclusion – potentially transmitted from parents to children – and a practice of female seclusion due to social pressure for adhering to these norms. Using a purposefully designed survey on female work in Bangladesh, we use information on purdah practice at the level of individuals, households, and communities to construct measures of individual preference and community pressure for female seclusion. Using past purdah practice within an individual’s parental home and at the level of the sub-district as instruments, we provide causal estimates of the effect of individual preferences and social pressure for female seclusion on female paid work participation. Our instrumental variable estimates indicate that individual purdah preferences have no effect, but the social prevalence of purdah has a strong negative effect on female paid work participation. We provide robustness checks to show that the results are not being driven by other potential determinants of purdah practice in Bangladesh, including religiosity within the community, rising female enrolment in religious schools, growth of microfinance, and norm transmission through migrant links to religiously conservative countries.

Suggested Citation

  • Mohammad Niaz Asadullah & Zaki Wahhaj, 2019. "Female Seclusion from Paid Work: A Social Norm or Cultural Preference?," Working Papers ECARES 2019-10, ULB -- Universite Libre de Bruxelles.
  • Handle: RePEc:eca:wpaper:2013/285104
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    labour force participation; culture; social norms; gender; Bangladesh;
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