The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics

2018 Edition
| Editors: Macmillan Publishers Ltd

Labour Markets in the Arab World

  • Ragui Assaad
Reference work entry


This article reviews the various arguments that have been advanced to explain the defining features of Arab labour markets, which can be summarised as: high youth unemployment, especially among young women and educated youth; oversized public sectors and small and anaemic formal private sectors; rapidly growing but highly distorted and low-quality educational attainment; and low (and stagnant) female labour force participation. While acknowledging the validity of most of these arguments, I argue that these defining features are attributable in large part to the specific nature of the region’s political economy, and, in particular, to the legacy of the so-called ‘authoritarian bargain’ social contracts that have characterised state–society relations in the post-colonial era.


Arab labour markets Authoritarian bargain Female labour force participation Human capital Labour market segmentation Social contracts Unemployment 

JEL Classifications

I25 J21 J24 J31 J45 O53 P52 
This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.


  1. Amin, M., R. Assaad, N. Al-Baharna, K. Dervis, R. Desai, N. Dhillon, A. Galal, H. Ghanem, C. Graham, D. Kaufmann, H. Kharas, J. Page, D. Salehi-Isfahani, K. Sierra, and T. Yousef. 2012. After the spring: Economic transitions in the Arab world. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Agénor, P.-R., M. Nabli, T. Yousef, and H.T. Jensen. 2007. Labor market reforms, growth, and unemployment in labor-exporting countries in the Middle East and North Africa. Journal of Policy Modeling 29: 277–309.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Ali, O., and Elbadawi, I. 2012. The political economy of public sector employment in resource dependent countries. ERF Working Paper No. 673, Economic Research Forum, Cairo, Egypt.Google Scholar
  4. Angel-Urdinola, D., and Kuddo, A. 2010. Key characteristics of employment regulation in the Middle East and North Africa. Social Protection and Labor Discussion Paper No. 1006, World Bank, Washington, DC.Google Scholar
  5. Assaad, R. 2006. Why did economic liberalization lead to feminization of the labor force in Morocco and de-feminization in Egypt? In Gender impacts of trade liberalization in the MENA region, 12–22. Tunis: Center of Arab Women Training and Research.Google Scholar
  6. Assaad, R. 2014. Making sense of Arab labor markets: The enduring legacy of dualism. IZA Journal of Labor and Development 3(6): 1–25.Google Scholar
  7. Assaad, R., and Levison, D. 2013. Employment for youth – a growing challenge for the global economy. Background Research Paper Submitted to High-Level Panel on the Post-2015 Development Agenda.Google Scholar
  8. Assaad, R., and F. El-Hamidi. 2009. Women in the Egyptian labor market: An analysis of developments, 1988–2006. In The Egyptian labor market revisited, ed. R. Assaad, 219–257. Cairo: American University in Cairo Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Assaad, R., and Hendy, R. 2013. On the two-way relationship between marriage and work: Evidence from Egypt and Jordan. 19th Annual Conference of the Economic Research Forum, 3–5 March 2013, Kuwait.Google Scholar
  10. Assaad, R., R. Hendy, and C. Yassine. 2014. Gender and the Jordanian labour market. In The Jordanian labour market in the new millennium, ed. R. Assaad, 105–143. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Assaad, R., and Roudi-Fahimi, F. 2007. Youth in the Middle East and North Africa: Demographic opportunity or challenge? MENA Policy Brief, Population Reference Bureau (PRB).Google Scholar
  12. Baldwin-Edwards, M. 2011. Labour immigration and labour markets in the GCC countries: National patterns and trends. London: LSE Kuwait Programme on Development.Google Scholar
  13. Bloom, D.E., and J.G. Williamson. 1998. Demographic transitions and economic miracles in emerging Asia. World Bank Economic Review 12(3): 419–455.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Bouhlila, D.S. 2011. The quality of secondary education in the Middle East and North Africa: What can we learn from TIMSS’ results? Compare 41(3): 327–352.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Campante, F.R., and D. Chor. 2012. Why was the Arab world poised for revolution? Schooling economic opportunities, and the Arab Spring. Journal of Economic Perspectives 26(2): 167–188.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Chaaban, J. 2010. Job creation in the Arab economies: Navigating through difficult waters. United Nations Development Programme, Regional Bureau for Arab States.Google Scholar
  17. Charrad, M.M. 2009. Kinship, Islam, or oil: Culprits of gender inequality? Politics & Gender 5(4): 546–553.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Clark, R., T.W. Ramsey, and E.S. Adler. 1991. Culture, gender, and labor force participation: A cross-national study. Gender and Society 5(1): 47–66.Google Scholar
  19. Corden, W.M., and J.P. Neary. 1982. Booming sector and de-industrialisation in a small open economy. The Economic Journal 92: 825–848.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Desai, R.M., A. Olfsgard, and T. Yousef. 2009. The logic of the authoritarian bargain. Economics and Politics 21(1): 93–125.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Diwan, I., P. Keefer, and M. Schiffbauer. 2014. On top of the pyramids: Cronyism and private sector growth in Egypt (mimeo). Washington, DC: World Bank.Google Scholar
  22. Dougherty, C. 2014. The labour market for youth in Egypt: Evidence from the 2012 school-to-work transition survey. Silatech Workshop on the Future of Arab Youth, London Middle East Institute, SOAS, University of London, 24–25 June 2014.Google Scholar
  23. El-Hamidi, F., and Wahba, J. 2004. Why does the MENA region have such high unemployment rates? (mimeo).Google Scholar
  24. El-Hamidi, F., and Wahba, J. 2005. The effects of structural adjustment on youth unemployment in Egypt. 12th Annual Conference of the Economic Research Forum, 19–21 December 2005, Cairo.Google Scholar
  25. Galal, A. 2002. The paradox of education and unemployment in Egypt. Working Paper No. 67, Egyptian Center for Economic Studies, Cairo, Egypt.Google Scholar
  26. Groh, M., and C. Rothschild. 2012. Oil, Islam, women, and geography: A comment on Ross (2008). Quarterly Journal of Political Science 7(1): 69–87.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Haghighat, E. 2005. A comparative analysis of neopatriarchy and female labor force participation in Islamic countries. Electronic Journal of Sociology 1: 1–1.Google Scholar
  28. Hendy, R. 2010. Rethinking time allocation of Egyptian women: A matching analysis. ERF Working Paper No. 526, Economic Research Forum, Cairo, Egypt.Google Scholar
  29. Herb, M. 2009. A nation of bureaucrats: Political participation and economic diversification in Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates. International Journal of Middle East Studies 41: 375–395.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. ILO/UNDP. 2012. Rethinking econoic growth: Towards productive and inclusive Arab societies. Beirut, Lebanon: ILO Regional Office of the Arab States and UNDP Regional Bureau for Arab States.Google Scholar
  31. ILO. 2013. Global employment trends for youth: A generation at risk. Geneva: ILO.Google Scholar
  32. Inglehart, R., and P. Norris. 2003. The true clash of civilizations. Foreign Policy 135: 63–70.Google Scholar
  33. Karshenas, M., and V.M. Moghadam. 2001. Female labor force participation and economic adjustment in the MENA region. Research in Middle East Economics 4: 51–74.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Malik, A., and B. Awadallah. 2013. The economics of the Arab Spring. World Development 45: 296–313.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Miles, R. 2002. Employment and unemployment in Jordan: The importance of the gender system. World Development 30(3): 413–427.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Moghadam, V.M. 2004a. Patriarchy in transition: Women and the changing family in the Middle East. Journal of Comparative Family Studies 35: 137–162.Google Scholar
  37. Moghadam, V.M. 2004b. Women’s economic participation in the Middle East: What difference has the neoliberal policy turn made? Journal of Middle East Women’s Studies 1(1): 110–146.Google Scholar
  38. Mullis, I., M. Martin, and P. Foy. 2008. TIMSS 2007 International Mathematics Report: Findings from IEA’s Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study at the Fourth and Eighth Grades. Chestnut Hill, MA: TIMSS & PIRLS International Study Center, Lynn School of Education, Boston College.Google Scholar
  39. Muysken, J., and S. Nour. 2006. Deficiencies in education and poor prospects for economic growth in the Gulf countries: The case of the UAE. Journal of Development Studies 42(6): 957–980.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Norris, P. 2009. Petroleum patriarchy? A response to Ross. Politics & Gender 5(4): 553–560.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Olmsted, J.C. 2005. Is paid work the (only) answer? Neoliberalism, Arab women’s well-being, and the social contract. Journal of Middle East Women’s Studies 2(1): 112–139.Google Scholar
  42. Ross, M.L. 2008. Oil, Islam, and women. American Political Science Review 102(1): 107–123.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Salehi-Isfahani, D. 2012. Education, jobs, and equity in the Middle East and North Africa. Comparative Economic Studies 54: 843–861.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Schwab, K. 2013. The Global Competitiveness Report: 2013–2014, p. 456. World Economic Forum, Geneva, Switzerland.Google Scholar
  45. Sharabi, H. 1988. Neopatriarchy. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  46. Sidani, Y. 2005. Women, work, and Islam in Arab societies. Women in Management Review 20(7): 498–512.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Spierings, N., J. Smits, and M. Verloo. 2010. Micro-and macrolevel determinants of women’s employment in six Arab countries. Journal of Marriage and Family 72(5): 1391–1407.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Youssef, N.H. 1971. Social structure and the female labor force: The case of women workers in Muslim Middle Eastern countries. Demography 8(4): 427–439.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. World Bank. 2004. Unlocking the employment potential in the Middle East and North Africa: Toward a new social contract. Washington, DC: World Bank.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. World Bank. 2013a. Jobs for shared prosperity: Time for action in the Middle East and North Africa. Washington, DC: World Bank.Google Scholar
  51. World Bank. 2013b. Opening doors: Gender equality and development in the Middle East and North Africa. Washington, DC: World Bank.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. World Bank. 2014. World development indicators data set. Washington, DC: World Bank.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Macmillan Publishers Ltd. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ragui Assaad
    • 1
  1. 1.