“In Saudi Arabia, men’s opinions on women’s work are not what they think”

Chronic. Everyone knows that women in Saudi Arabia are constrained in their movements in public by strong social norms. This would explain why the female participation rate in the labor market was only 18% in 2017.

Finally, everyone thinks they know it, but everyone can be wrong. The survey carried out regularly by the Arab Barometer research center in 2010 asked a question of a representative sample of Saudis in order to find out whether they accepted women working outside the home: 77% of men said they were in favor. .

Accept female employment

But more recently, a study has shown that Saudi men strongly underestimate the acceptability of women’s work outside by … Saudi men (“Misperceived Social Norms. Women Working Outside the Home in Saudi Arabia”, by Leonardo Bursztyn, Alessandra L. Gonzalez and David Yanagizawa-Drott, American Economic Review, n ° 110/10, 2020).

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The authors carried out an experiment where a sample of men were, before making the choice whether or not to register their wives on a job search platform, informed that the majority of their fellow men were in fact favorable to the fact that women work outside, while another sample, the control group, was not informed about the opinion of the majority. Among the latter, 23% chose to register for the platform, against 32% of men informed. This difference in behavior is particularly strong among men who most underestimated the general acceptability of outdoor work.

“It would seem that a social habit can be maintained by the sole conviction that a majority of society wishes it”

A few months after the experience, the authors verified its real consequences: 16% of wives in the “informed” sample applied, compared to 6% in the control group; 6% conducted job interviews, compared to 1%; 9% were employed outside the home (compared to 7%, a statistically insignificant difference).

The authors also conducted a study of women who applied to a recruitment agency for a job survey administration, a job that could be done either at home or in the office. Women who were asked about men’s true opinions were 33% willing to work outside the home, compared with only 18% in the control group.

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