Earned Income and Women’s Segmented Empowerment: Experimental Evidence from Jordan

The forthcoming article “Earned Income and Women’s Segmented Empowerment: Experimental Evidence from Jordan” by Carolyn Barnett, Amaney A. Jamal and Steve L. Monroe is summarized by the author(s) below.  

Though international development agencies champion women’s economic participation as a means to promote gender equality, the link between women’s employment and women’s empowerment is neither simple nor inexorableSome research demonstrates that earning income can empower women in the public and private sphere.  Other research proposes that patriarchal norms can suppress, constrain, or reverse the empowering effects of paid labor, and inhibit women’s access to income-earning opportunities.   

We examine the relationship between earned income and women’s empowerment in Jordan, a country with one of the lowest female labor force participation rates in the world. We conducted two original experiments that reveal how patriarchal norms can constrain the empowering effects of earned income on women’s bargaining power, and their preferences for paid employment opportunities.  

The first experiment was a lab experiment where we randomized participants’ relative earned income and measured its effect on female participants’ efficacy and influence—two behavioral dimensions of empowerment—in bargaining games involving same-sex and mixed-sex pairs. Our lab experiment demonstrates the complex relationship between earned income and women’s empowerment. We find that while earning more than one’s partner promotes women’s efficacy in bargaining situations, it has no effect on women’s influence over bargaining outcomes when they are paired with men as opposed to women. 

Stepping outside the lab, we then investigated whether patriarchal norms affect Jordanian women’s preferences toward income-earning opportunities. We presented hypothetical job opportunities to a separate sample of Jordanian women in a conjoint survey experiment. We find that though a range of material and socio-cultural factors influence women’s employment preferences, working alongside men is a particularly strong deterrent to women’s interest in paid employment opportunities. Jordanian women are 19% less likely to accept a job if it involves working alongside men. Our analysis suggests that mixed-sex work spaces are a stronger deterrent to accepting a hypothetical job opportunity for Jordanian women than below-average wages.  

Our experiments expose two ways patriarchal norms segment the empowering effects of earned income: by constraining the influence of relatively higher-earning women, and by rendering many paid employment opportunities unattractive to women. Together, these findings add new empirical support to research that questions the prospects for women’s empowerment via employment in contemporary societies with strong patriarchal norms.  

These findings invite further analysis on the policy implications of women’s strong preference for and greater assertiveness in same-sex settingsOn the one hand, policies that promote same-sex work spaces may lower barriers to women’s employment in patriarchal societies. By facilitating employment, same-sex work spaces can help women acquire new skills, gain confidence and autonomy, and earn income. On the other hand, female empowerment through same-sex work spaces may remain confined to same-sex spaces that may disadvantage women in the long run. Given that most economic, social, and political power remains male-dominated, female empowerment that is bound to same-sex settings risks preserving gender inequalities beyond the realm of work. 

About the Author(s): Carolyn Barnett is a Ph.D Candidate at Princeton University, Amaney A. Jamal is the Edwards S. Sanford Professor at Princeton University and Steve L. Monroe is an Assistant Professor at Yale‐NUS College. Their research Earned Income and Women’s Segmented Empowerment: Experimental Evidence from Jordan” is now available in Early View and will appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science. 

Speak Your Mind



The American Journal of Political Science (AJPS) is the flagship journal of the Midwest Political Science Association and is published by Wiley.