Undergraduate Honors Theses

Thesis Defended

Spring 2013

Document Type

Thesis

Department

International Affairs

First Advisor

Dr. Mohammed Akacem

Abstract

Education has long been seen as an important investment both for individuals and societies, and has wide-ranging benefits, particularly for women. Economic theory and real-world data find a positive correlation with female educational attainment and labor market participation. This paper examines the link between education and female labor market participation (FLMP) in the Middle East, focusing on Saudi Arabia and Turkey. FLMP is an important indicator of women’s status and benchmark of female empowerment in society, and should be encouraged. Using data from the World Bank Development Indicators, this paper finds that Saudi Arabia and Turkey, as well as the Middle East region as a whole, has seen tremendous gains in female education over the last forty years. Yet, this increase in female education has not led to expected increases in FLMP, and rates in the region remain the lowest in the world. This paper concludes that education alone is not sufficient for FLMP in either Saudi Arabia or Turkey, as other factors act as barriers to women’s economic participation. These include heavily segmented and imbalanced labor markets, which have limited the economic opportunities for women, and persistent cultural and traditional norms that discourage women from participation in the workforce. These factors have kept economic returns to female education low, and have contributed to the usually low FLMP rates in the Middle East.

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