American Political Science Review

Research Article

Oil, Islam, and Women


a1 University of California, Los Angeles


Women have made less progress toward gender equality in the Middle East than in any other region. Many observers claim this is due to the region's Islamic traditions. I suggest that oil, not Islam, is at fault; and that oil production also explains why women lag behind in many other countries. Oil production reduces the number of women in the labor force, which in turn reduces their political influence. As a result, oil-producing states are left with atypically strong patriarchal norms, laws, and political institutions. I support this argument with global data on oil production, female work patterns, and female political representation, and by comparing oil-rich Algeria to oil-poor Morocco and Tunisia. This argument has implications for the study of the Middle East, Islamic culture, and the resource curse.


c1 Michael L. Ross is Associate Professor, UCLA Department of Political Science, Box 951472, Los Angeles, CA 90095 (


I would like to thank Brian Min, Anoop Sarbahi, and Ani Sarkissian for their outstanding research assistance; and Lisa Blaydes, Elizabeth Carlson, Thad Dunning, Al Harberger, David Laitin, Ed Leamer, Phil Levy, Jeff Lewis, Ellen Lust-Okar, Irfan Nooruddin, Dan Posner, Michael Twomey, Erik Wibbels, and three anonymous reviewers for their ideas and criticisms. The many suggestions of Elisabeth Hermann Frederiksen were especially valuable. I wrote this paper while funded by a generous grant from the Open Society Institute. It was fruitfully dissected by students and faculty who participated in seminars at Princeton University, UC Berkeley, UCLA, and the University of Washington.