Erik Meyersson, of the Institute for International Economic Studies (IIES) at Stockholm University, uses an experimental situation in elections for Turkish municipal elections to estimate uncover the causal link between political Islam and education, as well as the labor market.

– Several mayoral elections are decided with a very thin margin of victory, and in those municipalities the assignment of an Islamic mayor can be thought of as random. In this sample Islamic rule led to higher female participation in non-religious education, a lower share of women classified as housewives, and a higher share of employed women receiving wages.

Women in Turkey are systematically underrepresented in education as well as in the labor market. This is particularly pronounced among the country’s religiously conservative, who also predominantly vote for religiously conservative politicians. This negative association has often been used as a weapon in the debate on whether democracy and political Islam are compatible. However, establishing the causal link between political Islam and development by scientific means has remained elusive.

In a recent doctoral dissertation Erik Meyersson shows that the impact of political Islam on education is positive, especially for women. This impact is particularly pronounced in the poorer and more pious areas of Turkey, as well as when the political contest is between an Islamic and a left-wing secular candidate. The results demonstrate that the Islamic movement in Turkey has played an important role in increasing participation in education among the poor and pious.

The ascent of Islamic rule has also led to increased investment in education by religious foundations, resulting in facilities increasingly tailored to religious conservatives, such as Qur’anic study centers and Islamic dormitories. The influence of religious foundations is hotly debated and their private, and by the state unmonitored, activities are often viewed as a consequence of creeping Islamification in the country. Yet access to such sponsored facilities may have also served to mitigate social norms and secular restrictions preventing female participation.

– Female enrollment in secular schools may become less problematic for conservative parents if they know their daughters can also attend Qur’anic courses after school, according to Erik Meyersson.

The results are specific to Turkey, with its secular and democratic institutions, and do not necessarily extend to all other countries. The positive participation impact of political Islam in Turkey can thus either be interpreted literally, or as an indirect consequence of various secular restrictions, such as the ban on the headscarf in public schools.

Erik Meyersson: “Religion, Politics, and Development – Essays in Development Economics and Political Economics.”

Erik Meyersson defends his thesis Thursday September 23 at 10.00 AM in Wallenbergssalen, hus 3, Kräftriket, Stockholm.

Additional information
Erik Meyersson, Institute for International Economic Studies, Stockholm University
Tel 070-99 87 321, 08-16 30 58