Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Economies of courtship: Matrimonial transactions and the construction of gender and class inequalities in Egypt
by Salem, Rania, Ph.D., Princeton University, 2011, 206; 3480274
Abstract (Summary)

In Egypt, young people and their families spend years saving up enough money to afford the jewelry, furniture, appliances, celebrations, and housing costs required for marriage. This dissertation examines gender and socioeconomic inequalities through the lens of these matrimonial transactions. Rationalist accounts would predict that the material prerequisites for marriage will be moderated to accommodate economic constraints, but as I contend in Chapter One, these arguments fail to take into consideration the crucial symbolic and relational work matrimonial transactions do. I use data drawn from semi-structured interviews with 66 engaged middle-class youths in two Egyptian cities to argue that matrimonial transactions act as signifiers of class status and gender ideals, and as such cannot be forgone by brides, grooms, or their families. In Chapter Two, I use two waves of a nationally-representative survey to show that the marriage timing of Egyptian men (who bear the lion.s share of marriage expenditures and must also act as breadwinners in the new conjugal household) is far more sensitive to economic standing than that of women. Favorable labor market experiences accelerate marriage for men, whereas they have no effect for women. Therefore the perceived problem of delayed marriage among men appears to be a product of their failure to secure good quality jobs in the public sector. The final chapter of the dissertation asks what consequences matrimonial transactions have for gender relations between husbands and wives. I use panel survey data to confirm prior evidence that Egyptian brides use their labor market earnings to finance marriage. Contrary to the predictions made by the existing literature, I find that wives' decision-making power is unaffected by their employment status (before or after marriage) or by their matrimonial expenditures. However, the heightened decision-making power of wives who had high wages before marriage is due to the marriage payments they were able to make with their earnings. I posit that the economic resources wives acquire at marriage largely fail to give them leverage vis à vis their husbands because Egyptian women's exit options from marriage are constrained by legal barriers and the social stigma of divorce.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Zelizer, Viviana
School: Princeton University
School Location: United States -- New Jersey
Source: DAI-A 72/12, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Womens studies, Middle Eastern Studies, North African Studies, Social structure
Keywords: Brideprice, Class inequality, Dowry, Egypt, Gender construction, Marriage, Youth
Publication Number: 3480274
ISBN: 978-1-124-93958-2
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