Is Divorce a Credible Threat? Khul Divorce Law, Household Bargaining and Women's Labor

Ashwini Sebastian, University of Maryland

There is no empirical evidence of the potential for divorce laws to influence female autonomy in developing countries. This paper examines whether the creation of unilateral divorce laws for women in Egypt alters their bargaining position within the household. Using data from the Demographic and Health Survey for Egypt, I find that the introduction of divorce rights favoring married women led to a significant decline in their labor force participation. For working-women, the divorce law also increased female self-employment. The decline in labor force participation is strongest among sub-groups of the population of women with some education and fewer household assets. Results across the agriculture and non-agriculture sectors indicate improved autonomy for women in the latter sector. However, for the very small fraction of women working in agriculture, mostly without pay, there is a significant increase in labor force participation signaling a reduction in autonomy for this group.

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Presented in Poster Session 2