Missing from the Market: Purdah Norm and Women's Paid Work Participation in Bangladesh

37 Pages Posted: 10 Jan 2017

See all articles by M. Niaz Asadullah

M. Niaz Asadullah

University of Reading - Department of Economics; University of Malaya

Zaki Wahhaj

University of Kent - Department of Economics; University of Namur; University of Kent - School of Economics


Despite significant improvement in female schooling over the last two decades, only a small proportion of women in South Asia are in wage employment. We revisit this puzzle using a nationally representative data set from Bangladesh. Probit regression results show that even after accounting for human capital endowments, women are systematically less likely to participate in paid work than men. Oaxaca decomposition of the gender gap confirms that most of it (i.e. 95%) is unexplained by endowment differences. Instead, community norms such as the practice of purdah (i.e. female seclusion) have a statistically significant and negative effect on women's participation in paid work. We do not find any evidence that purdah norm variable affect paid work participation indirectly, via determining the labor force participation decision. The correlation between current work participation and purdah norm in natal household is insignificant confirming that the result is not driven by omitted individual-specific socio-economic factors. We also use data on past purdah practice of the current community to estimate an instrumental variable Probit regression model and rule out the possibility of reverse causality. Detailed decomposition analysis reveals that community purdah norm accounts for a quarter of the total unexplained gap. The findings are robust to controls for the influence of co-resident in-laws, household structure, marital status, and a wide range of community characteristics such as ecological factors, presence of NGOs, provision of public infrastructure, remoteness and local labor market conditions including the norm of unacceptability of unmarried women's outside work in the community.

Keywords: Purdah norm, gender inequality, labor market participation, poverty, Bangladesh

JEL Classification: I26, I28, J12, J16, O12

Suggested Citation

Asadullah, Mohammad Niaz and Wahhaj, Zaki, Missing from the Market: Purdah Norm and Women's Paid Work Participation in Bangladesh. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2895311 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2895311

Mohammad Niaz Asadullah (Contact Author)

University of Reading - Department of Economics ( email )

Reading, RG6 6AA
United Kingdom

HOME PAGE: http://www.reading.ac.uk/economics/about/staff/m-asadullah.asp

University of Malaya ( email )

Kuala Lumpur, Wilayah Persekutuan

Zaki Wahhaj

University of Kent - Department of Economics ( email )

Keynes College
Kent, CT2 7NP
United Kingdom

University of Namur ( email )

8 Rempart de la Vierge
Namur, 5000

University of Kent - School of Economics ( email )

United Kingdom

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics