Comparative Political Economy, Gender, and Labor Markets


Caraway, Teri L. 2009. “Comparative Political Economy, Gender, and Labor Markets.” Politics & Gender 5 (4): 568-575. doi:10.1017/S1743923X09990389.

Author: Teri L. Caraway


The publication in 2008 of Michael Ross’s “Oil, Islam, and Women” by the discipline’s flagship journal, the American Political Science Review, is a welcome development. It is the first empirical work with a primary focus on gender and political economy ever published in the journal and portends well for the development of research that focuses on such questions. My essay has two foci. The first is a critical engagement with Ross’s analysis of why oil production negatively affects women’s employment prospects. The second is how to further develop the study of gender in the comparative political economy of labor markets.



Ross’s definition of the workforce excludes the informal sector and agricultural jobs. This analytic move is unfortunately not justified. Since his analysis excludes parts of the economy that employ a significant proportion of women, the full extent of oil’s impact on women’s employment prospects is unclear. For example, one implication of his argument about the contraction of formal-sector employment opportunities for women in oil economies is that women may be forced into the informal sector; their opportunities in agriculture might also shrink, since it is a tradable sector.” (569)

“The way that gender shapes the demand side of employment is undertheorized in his account. Although Dutch disease discourages investment in manufacturing, some oil producers do develop a manufacturing base. Investments are overwhelmingly in inward- oriented and capital-intensive industries, however, which generate little employment and overwhelmingly hire male labor. Yet when inward- oriented labor-intensive industries expand in this context, they can generate substantial female employment.” (569-70)

“Since oil-intensive growth is capital-intensive and creates few jobs, a minority of male workers actually secure the well-paid jobs connected to it, resulting in high levels of income inequality and, often, high levels of male unemployment. Under such conditions, women do not need to be offered very high wages to entice them into the workforce. In other words, the main constraint on women’s employment in oil economies is not that employers do not offer wages high enough to entice women into the workforce but that employers usually do not want to hire women in the first place.” (570)

“The low demand for women’s labor is unlikely to change in oil-based economies until they diversify in ways that develop labor-intensive industries, and this usually only happens once oil revenues fall into secular decline.” (570)

“Economists and sociologists have offered a variety of explanations for women’s concentration in labor-intensive sectors of manufacturing. The three most common are strength, wages, and skill, and they often appear together… If this story is correct, women’s employment in manufacturing should show little variation across time and space because women everywhere are assumed to be the same: cheap, weaker than men, and less committed to work.2 Yet the contours of segregation between men and women in manufacturing change across time, both within and across industries.” (571-2)

Topics: Economies, Extractive Industries, Gender, Women, Gender Roles, Livelihoods, Political Economies Regions: Africa, MENA, North Africa, Asia, Middle East

Year: 2009

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