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Document Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program


Year Degree Awarded


Month Degree Awarded


First Advisor

James K. Boyce

Second Advisor

Deepankar Basu

Third Advisor

James Heintz

Subject Categories

Growth and Development | Labor Economics | Political Economy


Turkey has experienced important structural and social changes that would be expected to facilitate women’s participation in market work. Social attitudes toward working women have changed in recent years; women are becoming more educated; they are getting married at a later age; and fertility rates are declining. Despite these factors, women’s labor force participation rates are very low in comparison to the countries at a similar development stage.

This dissertation analyzes the underlying causes of low female labor force participation in Turkey. In addition to a background chapter (Chapter 2) analyzing structural transformation and employment generation patterns, the dissertation has three main chapters. In Chapter 3, I investigate the role of patriarchal norms and religiosity in constraining women’s labor force participation using 2008 Demographic and Health Survey data. Employing an instrumental variable estimation, I find that internalization of patriarchal norms has a negative impact on female labor force participation.

In Chapter 4 I use qualitative data from in-depth interviews based on field research in 2013 to investigate women’s preferences as well as their actual behavior. I analyze women’s labor force participation decisions, past schooling decisions and fertility decisions in light of their individual preferences and aspirations on one hand, structural constraints and household dynamics on the other, and I question the common assumption that paid employment leads to empowerment of women. I find that women are not given equal opportunity to make their life choices from an early age. Many women express a preference for work outside the home but face constraints including the burden of care work and husband’s disapproval. The interviews with working wives, on the other hand, reveal that the gender division of labor in the household is not changed substantially by the employment status of women.

In Chapter 5 I examine the impact of an employment subsidy enacted in Turkey in 2008 on women’s employment, accounting for variations across culturally diverse provinces. I estimate a difference-in-differences model using a monthly panel of province-level employment data from the Social Security Administration of Turkey. I find that the employment package increased the female share of employment in the provinces where positive discrimination was effective. Moreover, I find that there is not a statistically significant difference between conservative and progressive provinces in terms of the effectiveness of the policy: a demand-side policy can increase women’s employment despite cultural constraints that are normally thought to prohibit female labor supply.

The findings of the dissertation support the premise that understanding the low female labor force participation in Turkey requires taking into account complex social, economic, and cultural factors. Using complementary quantitative and qualitative methodologies, the dissertation shows that both supply-side and demand-side constraints are in play, implying need for policy-makers to address both sides of the labor market to raise women’s employment.