Islamic Rule and the Empowerment of the Poor and Pious


  • Erik Meyersson

    1. Stockholm Institute for Transition Economics (SITE), Stockholm School of Economics, P.O. Box 6501, SE-113 83 Stockholm, Sweden;;
    Search for more papers by this author
    • I am particularly indebted to my advisers Torsten Persson and David Strömberg for their support. In addition, I am grateful to Daron Acemoğlu, Philippe Aghion, Yeşim Arat, Sascha Becker, Olle Folke, Guido Imbens, Murat İyigün, Asim Khwaja, Gülay Özcan, Alp Şimşek, İnsan Tunalı, several anonymous referees, and conference and seminar participants at CEPR, Duke, Georgetown, Harvard, IIES, Koç, LSE, MIT, NBER, Sciences-Po, UC-Berkeley, UPF, and Warwick for useful comments. The author has benefited much from discussions with several Turkish academics, former government employees, politicians, and teachers who have asked to remain anonymous. The assistance of the Turkish Statistical Institute and the Swedish Research Institute in Istanbul is gratefully acknowledged. All remaining errors are mine. The views, analysis, and conclusions in this paper are solely the responsibility of the author.


Does Islamic political control affect women's empowerment? Several countries have recently experienced Islamic parties coming to power through democratic elections. Due to strong support among religious conservatives, constituencies with Islamic rule often tend to exhibit poor women's rights. Whether this reflects a causal relationship or a spurious one has so far gone unexplored. I provide the first piece of evidence using a new and unique data set of Turkish municipalities. In 1994, an Islamic party won multiple municipal mayor seats across the country. Using a regression discontinuity (RD) design, I compare municipalities where this Islamic party barely won or lost elections. Despite negative raw correlations, the RD results reveal that, over a period of six years, Islamic rule increased female secular high school education. Corresponding effects for men are systematically smaller and less precise. In the longer run, the effect on female education remained persistent up to 17 years after, and also reduced adolescent marriages. An analysis of long-run political effects of Islamic rule shows increased female political participation and an overall decrease in Islamic political preferences. The results are consistent with an explanation that emphasizes the Islamic party's effectiveness in overcoming barriers to female entry for the poor and pious.