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Economic development and female labor participation in the Middle East and North Africa : a test of the u-shape hypothesis

Listed author(s):
  • Verme, Paolo

The Middle East and North Africa region is known for having low female labor market participation rates as compared with its level of economic development. A possible explanation is that these countries find themselves at the turning point of the U-shape hypothesis when countries transition from declining to rising female participation rates. This paper tests the U-shape hypothesis in countries in the Middle East and North Africa. It finds that the region has outperformed other world regions in terms of the main drivers of the U-shape hypothesis, including gross domestic product per capita, economic transformation away from the agricultural sector, female education, and fertility rates. These facts are consistent with nonparametric evidence that shows countries in the region are distributed over a U-shaped curve. However, parametric tests of the hypothesis point in a different direction. The region shows an inverted U-shape overall and great heterogeneity across countries and age cohorts that defies any law on the relation between gross domestic product and female participation rate. The explanation behind these findings may be economic and cultural. Jobless growth and the lack of growth in employment sectors such as manufacturing and services, which proved critical for female employment in other countries, weaken labor demand and strengthen the role of institutions that may discourage female participation, such as marriage, legislation, and gender norms.

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Paper provided by The World Bank in its series Policy Research Working Paper Series with number 6927.

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Date of creation: 01 Jun 2014
Handle: RePEc:wbk:wbrwps:6927
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  1. Leah Platt Boustan & Carola Frydman & Robert A. Margo, 2014. "Human Capital in History: The American Record," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number bous12-1, November.
  2. Umar Serajuddin & Paolo Verme, 2015. "Who is Deprived? Who Feels Deprived? Labor Deprivation, Youth, and Gender in Morocco," Review of Income and Wealth, International Association for Research in Income and Wealth, vol. 61(1), pages 140-163, March.
  3. George A. Akerlof & Rachel E. Kranton, 2000. "Economics and Identity," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 115(3), pages 715-753.
  4. Isis Gaddis & Stephan Klasen, 2014. "Economic development, structural change, and women’s labor force participation:," Journal of Population Economics, Springer;European Society for Population Economics, vol. 27(3), pages 639-681, July.
  5. Psacharopoulos, George & Tzannatos, Zafiris, 1989. "Female Labor Force Participation: An International Perspective," World Bank Research Observer, World Bank Group, vol. 4(2), pages 187-201, July.
  6. Tsani, Stella & Paroussos, Leonidas & Fragiadakis, Costas & Charalambidis, Ioannis & Capros, Pantelis, 2013. "Female labour force participation and economic growth in the South Mediterranean countries," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 120(2), pages 323-328.
  7. Verme, Paolo & Barry, Abdoul Gadiry & Guennouni, Jamal, 2014. "Female labor participation in the Arab world : some evidence from panel data in Morocco," Policy Research Working Paper Series 7031, The World Bank.
  8. Ndiamé Diop & Daniela Marotta & Jaime de Melo, 2012. "Natural Resource Abundance, Growth, and Diversification in the Middle East and North Africa : The Effects of Natural Resources and the Role of Policies," World Bank Publications, The World Bank, number 11956, December.
  9. Angrist, Joshua D & Evans, William N, 1998. "Children and Their Parents' Labor Supply: Evidence from Exogenous Variation in Family Size," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 88(3), pages 450-477, June.
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