Journal Article

Education, wage work, and marriage: Perspectives of Egyptian working women

We explore young working women’s perceptions of marriage and work in contemporary Egypt, when an increase in age at marriage was evident from national survey data. Both working conditions and employment opportunities declined significantly for young women even as their educational attainment increased and marriage was delayed. In-depth interviews were conducted over a 2-year period between 1998 and 2000 with 27 young women between the ages of 15 and 29 who were from relatively poor families and working in a range of salaried jobs in three locations. The qualitative data indicate that young women have high expectations in terms of marital living standards. They seek to achieve this in part by saving intensively before marriage when they work, and otherwise by ensuring substantial monetary support from their families. We conclude that rising material aspirations and family nucleation rather than change in female labor force participation drive marriage change in contemporary Egypt. The driving force behind this conclusion is that there is a reinforcement of the traditional values associated with the institution of marriage rather than its erosion.