Confounding and confirming expectations on the “care economy” in MENA

Press Release

Key findings from Salma Al-Shami and Maitha AlSuwaidi‘s new blog:

-Arab Barometer findings from 12 countries surveyed in the seventh wave (2021-2022) partially confound expectations on unpaid care work in the region. The latest findings disrupt patriarchal preconceptions with respect to sharing childcare responsibilities but reinforce them when it comes to insisting that budgeting and spending are the responsibilities of the man of the house.

-Arab Barometer’s latest survey results suggest that most MENA citizens believe childcare—including help with schoolwork — is a responsibility that should be shared by both male and female household heads, regardless of who currently completes this responsibility. However, the largest share of MENA citizens believes that the male household head alone should be responsible for budgeting and spending on household needs.

-Women generally tend to be more supportive than men of equal sharing of responsibilities across both questions, but this division is more salient for budgeting and spending.

-But perhaps what is most notable are differences among women themselves. Findings suggest that some gendered norms are as, if not more, reified among the opinions of women outside the paid labor force as they are among the opinions of men.

-The COVID-19 pandemic seems to have had a paradoxical consequence: while it increased the amount of work for women at home, it simultaneously raised awareness for the fact that such work, even if unpaid, merits women having a say in household decisions. Housewives are no exception to this trend. Among this subset of women who are often most responsible for unpaid care work, support for the idea that men should have final say in household decisions is markedly down by 22 points in Lebanon, 21 points in Algeria, 14 points in Tunisia, and 10 points in Sudan.

-Differences between employed men and employed women were especially stark on the question of sharing budgeting and spending responsibilities, with men more likely saying it is the male head’s responsibility.

-The entry of women into the paid workforce might be changing gendered power relations and challenging gender norms within a household. Being in the paid workforce correlates with beliefs that both genders should have say in financial decisions at home. In all countries except for Mauritania, employed and self-employed women strongly voice an expectation of equal say in budgeting and spending in particular in comparison to employed and self-employed men.This gender gap ranges from 8 percent in Sudan to 32 percent in Iraq.

-Education differences between those who completed higher education and those who completed maximum secondary education are also significant, but more significant for the question of helping children study. Those with higher levels of education are likelier than their less educated counterparts to opine household heads should be equally responsible for both tasks.

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