Is Islamic political control bad for women’s empowerment?

by on February 26, 2014 at 4:09 am in Data Source, Education, Law, Political Science, Uncategorized | Permalink

Maybe not, once we control properly for endogeneity:

Islamic Rule and the Empowerment of the Poor and Pious

Erik Meyersson
Econometrica, January 2014, Pages 229–269

Does Islamic political control affect women’s empowerment? Several countries have recently experienced Islamic parties coming to power through democratic elections. Due to strong support among religious conservatives, constituencies with Islamic rule often tend to exhibit poor women’s rights. Whether this reflects a causal relationship or a spurious one has so far gone unexplored. I provide the first piece of evidence using a new and unique data set of Turkish municipalities. In 1994, an Islamic party won multiple municipal mayor seats across the country. Using a regression discontinuity (RD) design, I compare municipalities where this Islamic party barely won or lost elections. Despite negative raw correlations, the RD results reveal that, over a period of six years, Islamic rule increased female secular high school education. Corresponding effects for men are systematically smaller and less precise. In the longer run, the effect on female education remained persistent up to 17 years after, and also reduced adolescent marriages. An analysis of long-run political effects of Islamic rule shows increased female political participation and an overall decrease in Islamic political preferences. The results are consistent with an explanation that emphasizes the Islamic party’s effectiveness in overcoming barriers to female entry for the poor and pious.

There are ungated versions here.  That is via Kevin Lewis, who surveys other interesting papers on religion here.

1 david February 26, 2014 at 5:28 am

But Turkish municipal mayors are not actually in a position to stop female secular education, so their only mechanism of influence is to add more Islamic options to the existing secular educational system. This increases the percentage of women who go through the religious educational stream but, unintentionally, increases the overall percentage of women receiving high school educations.

Otherwise it seems insensible that any Islamic party would consciously undertake something that leads to “an overall decrease in Islamic political preferences”.

It may be interesting to compare Parti Islam Se-Malaysia’s triumphs in eastern peninsula Malaysia from 1999 onwards, since likewise the secular schools answer to the federal government, but the religious schools answer to the states.

2 tjamesjones February 26, 2014 at 5:52 am

Is this even serious? Regardless of the outcome of the study, how can anybody expect to isolate cause and effect in such a complicated scenario? Social science ain’t science.

3 david February 26, 2014 at 6:03 am

Discontinuity analysis, of course.

4 Curt F. February 26, 2014 at 8:46 am

The problem is, the major discontinuity seems to be between the limited scope of the data (Turkish towns in the 1990s onwards only) and the sweeping generalizations (“Islamic rule and empowerment of the poor and pious”) implied in the title.

Do the results apply to Egypt in the year 1100? Will they apply to Saudi Arabia in the year 2200? The title would imply that they would, but of course the data cannot say.

5 Just another MR Commentor February 26, 2014 at 6:06 am

The intersection between religion-politics-and-economics is an area that doesn’t get enough attention but is becoming important in certain parts of the world. I see a lot of opportunity here for those whole think carefully about casual analysis and model selection.

6 Ray Lopez February 26, 2014 at 7:04 am

From the same website, seems that putting these two studies together implies the Turkish Islamic party is digging it’s own demise. – RL
Retrospective questions from recent surveys let us estimate rates of church attendance among children and their parents in ten Western democracies throughout most of the 20th century. We combine these time series with standard sources to test competing theories of religious change. Although our attendance estimates affirm the prevalence of religious decline, our statistical tests offer no support for traditional theories of secularization (which link decline to changes in income, education, industrialization, urbanization, and family life). Nor can we attribute much of the observed decline to growth in the welfare state. But increased school spending by governments does reduce church attendance, and this effect is not the result of greater educational attainment. In shaping the content of schooling, governments may strongly influence long-run religious trends.

7 NK February 26, 2014 at 7:06 am

More “scientific” insanity!
How can anything be good if it’s not voluntary?

8 dan1111 February 26, 2014 at 8:11 am

I am going to conduct a study to see whether the correlation between Democratic rule and Obamacare is spurious. We can’t be sure of causality until someone has published something in a peer-reviewed journal.

9 Brian Donohue February 26, 2014 at 8:50 am

Isn’t it possible that, due to culture and geography, there were other trends going on in Turkey (EU footsie) that explain this? Doesn’t strike me as a definitive ‘test drive’ of the Islamist model. How about Iran? Also not Arabs though.

10 kerokan February 26, 2014 at 3:24 pm

The empirical design (regression discontiunity) rules that possibility out. The author compares districts where an Islamist party *won* by a very slim margin to districts where that party *lost* by a very slim margin. The assumption is that given such small margins, the outcome was decided by chance. He shows that in every reasonable (and quantifiable) respect these two sets of districts were the same. Any trend that affects the whole country at the time (eg. EU candidacy) affects both sets of districts and cannot explain why women’s education outcomes were significantly different between them. Hope this helps.

11 Z February 26, 2014 at 8:56 am

Since ” women’s empowerment” is about as empirically sound as “flying spaghetti monster” you can make whatever claims you like on the subject. They cannot be falsified. At best it is just another example of Western liberals trying to force they morality onto others.

That said, the Turks are an interesting study. The rise of the AKP is mostly a reaction to the western cultural onslaught. Traditional Turks look at falling birth rates, eroding social capital and the rising tide of Kurdish demographics with a great deal of alarm. They should. What it means to be a Turk could very well be slipping away. Simple math says it could be swept away as the Kurdish population swells to meet or exceed the Turkish population. When your birth rate is 1.5, old men are not planting many shade trees.

Then you have the even weirder stuff like Muhammed Fethullah Gülen, the cult leader most think is behind the rise of Erdogan. Not many countries sport a secret cult whose leader lives in the Poconos and runs a string of charter schools in American cities. The fact that his brand of Islam is considered progressive when it comes to women is probably worth exploring more than the idiotic study at the top.

12 dearieme February 26, 2014 at 9:16 am

Seasonally corrected, it never snows in January.

13 Alexei Sadeski February 26, 2014 at 12:49 pm

This result is driven by increased education to the poor and pious?

Thus the suggestion is that the more egalitarian nature of conservative Islamism is sufficient to counteract any ill effects (should there, in fact, be any ill effects), in the aggregate?

14 Li Zhi February 26, 2014 at 3:12 pm

“Despite negative raw correlations between Islamic rule and female secular high school completion…” Liars, Damned Liars, and statisticians. In looking at the paper, the number of assumptions this guy makes is risible. Turkey is ranked 121 out of 128 in terms of gender equality…the author even acknowledges that the educational “improvement” was at the cost of less secular education during that time and more religious indoctrination, especially of girls. It is an interesting question to raise, and sound analysis would have advanced the question. As others have commented, methods to filter out all of the other forces at work in a rising 3rd world economy just aren’t available (imho). I’d comment (I’m a chemist by trade) that using 6 years worth of data in addressing this is like using today’s weather to confirm or contradict global warming – not nearly enough data, and not nearly from a broad enough data base. The output variable he used, “high school attainment”, makes it hard to take him seriously. Primary School education is mandatory in Turkey up to age 10. After that, it is voluntary and the author’s mentions that the Refah Party allowed poor conservative religious parents to send their daughters to “school” after age 10 . Big whoop. He admits that the “education” was increasingly religious indoctrination during this period – by conservative Islamists – think about it. Participation is not (necessarily) in itself of value. Always good to ask for data. Nothing wrong with attempting to analyze it. This paper is, imho, seriously flawed…but its been widely shown that you can get almost any rubbish published in the social science journals. I guess you gotta start somewhere…

15 Peter Schaeffer February 26, 2014 at 4:28 pm

As a strictly empirical observation, almost all Islamic countries strongly support female education. Of course, the Taliban were a crazy exception. However, female education is well advanced in many Middle-Eastern countries. For example, women consistently outnumber men in universities in both Iran and Saudi Arabia.

I can’t comment on the merits or thesis of the study. However, the prevalence of female university students in the Middle East shows that Islam does not preclude female education. Of course, the U.S. has a majority of female university students as well.

16 Steve Sailer February 26, 2014 at 8:16 pm

From looking at the PISA scores of boys v. girls in different countries, you often see a pattern where in the more chauvinist Islamic countries, the boys appear to be lazy about their schoolwork and the girls dutiful, so the girls score higher on average.

Presumably, in very backward Islamic countries like Yemen or Afghanistan, the girls are kept out of school, but those kind of places seldom participate in PISA or TIMSS.

17 Turkey Vulture February 26, 2014 at 8:55 pm

What a Party may do when ruling a municipality within a larger nation-state may tend to differ from what it would do if it were running the entire nation-state. If nothing else, the relevant powers possessed in each case are very different (though I know nothing about the specific powers exercised at the municipal level in Turkey).

18 Steve Sailer February 26, 2014 at 9:10 pm

Turkey’s Islamic Gulenist cult that is close to driving Prime Minister Erdogan out of power via its takeover of the Deep State in Turkey is highly education-oriented: it runs Turkey’s biggest chain of test prep centers and is the biggest operator of charter schools in the U.S., extracting over a half-billion dollars per year from American taxpayers.

The classic Islamist political issue in Turkey for decades has been whether pious women college students can be allowed to cover their hair with scarves. (The Kemalists outlawed haircoverings in colleges.) So, lets not assume that girls are all being kept barefoot and pregnant and out of school in the more Islamic parts of Turkey.

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22 John Galt III February 28, 2014 at 10:54 am

Some mosque/imam/Saudi paid this guy a lot of money for this rubbish.

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