Women’s Economic Resources and Bargaining in Marriage: Does Egyptian Women's Well-Being Depend on Earnings or Marriage Payments?
Although research in the Middle East and elsewhere shows that women’s work is associated with greater gender equality in the household, the mechanisms by which work and earnings affect women’s power and status are poorly understood. This study uses Egyptian survey data to determine whether the effect of women’s work on their well-being is mediated by the material transactions that accompany marriage. Previous research on this topic has identified two important paradoxes. First, Egyptian brides’ contributions to marriage expenses have increased as their earning potential has risen. This contradicts the labor-value hypothesis, which posits that resources will flow from bride to groom so long as women are economically dependent on men. The second paradox is that women’s work has not resulted in new entitlements for women as modernization narratives would predict. Instead single women work intensively to accumulate the savings necessary to secure a good marriage, retire from the labor market, and claim the privileged status of housewife. Neither paradox has been tested using national data that allows other variables to be taken into account. Here I propose to do so while adding a third perspective, the bargaining hypothesis. This hypothesis posits that marriage payments made to the bride, as well as assets she herself brings to the marriage, enhance her bargaining position and deter ill-treatment. Women’s earnings after marriage should have the same effect according to this hypothesis. Analysis of the 2006 Egypt Labor Market Panel Survey panel data is used to test each of the three hypotheses and to explore the associations between women’s labor market activity, earnings, absolute and proportional marriage payments, and a measure of well-being within marriage.
Rania Salem is a doctoral candidate at Princeton University’s Department of Sociology and the Office of Population Research. She received her Bachelor’s degree from the American University in Cairo in 2001, and in 2004 she obtained a Master’s degree from Oxford University. Before beginning her doctoral studies, Rania worked at the Cairo office of the Population Council, where she carried out research on youth transitions from school to work and evaluated an intervention for disadvantaged adolescents. Her interests include sociology of marriage and the family, women and gender, social and economic development, and the Middle East. Rania is currently working on her dissertation, which is entitled "Economies of Courtship: Matrimonial Transactions and the Construction of Gender and Class Inequalities in Egypt ."