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Islamic Rule and the Empowerment of the Poor and Pious

by Erik Meyersson, published in the Econometrica

Does Islamic political control a ffect women's empowerment? Several countries have recently experienced Islamic parties coming to power through democratic elections. Due to strong support among religious conservatives, constituencies with Islamic rule often tend to exhibit poor women's rights. Whether this relationship reflects a causal or a spurious one has so far gone unexplored. I provide the fi rst piece of evidence using a new and unique dataset of Turkish municipalities. In 1994, an Islamic party won multiple municipal mayor seats across the country. Using a regression discontinuity (RD) design, I compare municipalities where this Islamic party barely won or lost elections. Despite negative raw correlations, the RD results reveal that over a period of six years, Islamic rule increased female secular high school education. Corresponding eff ects for men are systematically smaller and less precise. In the longer run, the e ffect on female education remained persistent up to 17 years after and also reduced adolescent marriages. An analysis of long-run political eff ects of Islamic rule shows increased female political participation and an overall decrease in Islamic political preferences. The results are consistent with an explanation that emphasizes the Islamic party's e ffectiveness in overcoming barriers to female entry for the poor and pious.

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