Gender and the education-employment paradox in ethnic and religious contexts: The case of Arab Americans
Education is weakly related to employment for some groups of U.S. women. As such, it may be less of a resource for reducing gender inequality than commonly believed. Drawing on ethnographic field notes and in-depth interviews with Arab Americans, we recast the motivations and consequences of female education in terms of cultural schemas and resources and then analyze the processes that underlie the education-employment link in ethnic and religious contexts. Arab American women are a particularly useful case study because they have higher educational attainments but lower employment rates than most other groups of U.S. women. Our findings shed light on this paradox. Arab Americans universally support female education as a resource, not for economic mobility, but to ensure the proper socialization of children, solidarity of the family, and ultimately the maintenance of ethnic and religious identity. Contrary to the widely held assumption that female education will equalize gender power dynamics, our results highlight how and when women's education may reproduce patriarchal gender relations. This is the case in religious and ethnic contexts where women forgo market opportunities to fulfill familial responsibilities, and where parents and children view female education as a collective family resource - a resource to be invested in the home rather than in the market.
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