“Understanding Cultural Constraints to Female Labor Force Participation: How Family Dynamics Influence Women’s Employment in Qatar and the Arab Gulf States”
Under what conditions do cultural constraints limit women's opportunities to participate in the labor force? A core challenge associated with understanding how culture impacts economic decision-making is that it is virtually impossible to separate the influence of cultural beliefs from the effects of economic conditions and institutions. We examine the cultural constraints to female labor force participation in Qatar, a conservative country where state revenue from natural resource rents means that virtually any citizen can secure a public sector job should they seek employment. We find that although Qataris are generally in support of female labor force participation – both in principle and for their own relatives – concerns remain about the impact of women working for marriage, family, and traditional Qatari values. Reservations are amplified when Qataris are prompted to consider mixed-gender work environments for female family members. Qualitative insights from focus groups of Qatari men and women suggest that within-family concerns may be more salient than apprehension about how the decision to work outside the home will be judged by others in society. We propose a new conceptual framework for reconciling recent advances in the literature on remedies for overcoming cultural constraints to female labor force participation in Arab Gulf societies .
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