Misperceived Social Norms: Female Labor Force Participation in Saudi Arabia


Thursday, March 29, 2018, 11:40am to 1:00pm


Cason Seminar Room

Alessandra González, Senior Research Associate, Department of Economics, University of Chicago

If most people believe a behavior is stigmatized, they might not learn that in fact most other people support that behavior. In this seminar, Alessandra González provides incentivized evidence that the vast majority of young married men in Saudi Arabia privately support female labor force participation (FLFP) outside of the home from a normative perspective. However, they substantially underestimate the level of support for FLFP by other similar men – even men from their same social setting, such as their neighbors. Alessandra then shows that randomly correcting these beliefs about others increases married men’s willingness to let their wives join the labor force. Finally, she finds that this decision maps into real outcomes: four months after the main intervention, the wives of men in our original sample whose beliefs about acceptability of FLFP were corrected are more likely to have applied and interviewed for a job outside of home. Together, the evidence indicates a potentially important source of labor market frictions, where job search is underprovided due to misperceived social norms.