A new research report published by the UBS International Center of Economics in Society examines how social norms may affect employment rates for women in Saudi Arabia, providing evidence “that most Saudi men privately believe that women should be allowed to work, but that they underestimate the extent to which other men share their views.”
“Employment rates for women in Saudi Arabia are very low. By custom, they cannot decide for themselves whether to work or not – they need the consent of their male guardian (either their husband or father). Whether men permit their wives or daughters to work depends crucially on social norms,” the report, entitled “Women, work, and social norms in Saudi Arabia” by David Yanagizawa-Drott, found.
“Drawing on a combination of experiments and survey evidence, we find that the vast majority of married men in Saudi Arabia support the participation of women in work outside the home. At the same time, they substantially underestimate the level of support for female labor market participation by other men – even those from their same social setting, such as neighbors.”
Recent changes in Saudi law may have created a more accepting environment for women in the workplace. For example, the ban on women’s right to drive was lifted in 2018. But, for policy-makers in Saudi Arabia and other countries where social norms play a key role in people’s economic choices, “the evidence that mistaken beliefs can be corrected may offer guidance in forming policies to change behavior,” the report said. “Conducting opinion polls and disseminating information could be a relatively cheap – and effective – way of changing customs, particularly in less democratic societies, where the availability of other natural aggregators of information is more limited.”
The UBS Center in Zurich was established in 2012, enabled by a founding donation by UBS, which the bank made on the occasion of its 150th anniversary.