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Does Oil Hurt Women’s Rights?

- June 10, 2008

bq. Women have made less progress toward gender equality in the Middle East than in any other region. Many observers claim this is due to the region’s Islamic traditions. I suggest that oil, not Islam, is at fault; and that oil production also explains why women lag behind in many other countries. Oil production reduces the number of women in the labor force, which in turn reduces their political influence. As a result, oil-producing states are left with atypically strong patriarchal norms, laws, and political institutions.

That is Michael Ross in the latest American Political Science Review. The paper is here. In the statistical analyses, oil rents per capita are associated with lower female labor force participation and fewer female seats in parliament — controlling for factors such as GDP per capita, region (Middle East, etc.), the proportion of the country that is Muslim, and other demographic and institutional characteristics of states. Moreover, if one focuses only on the Middle East, these same findings hold.

See also Ross’ work on how oil contributes to civil war and other conflicts — here in the Journal of Peace Research and here in Foreign Affairs.