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International Trade, Female Labor, and Entrepreneurship in MENA Countries

Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) countries stand out in international comparisons of de jure obstacles to female employment and entrepreneurship. These obstacles manifest themselves in low rates of female labor participation, entrepreneurship, and ownership. Recent research suggests a connection between international trade and female labor participation. In this article, the authors focus on the relationship between international trade and gender in the MENA countries. They first analyze female labor as a production factor and then focus on female entrepreneurship and firm ownership. The authors use country- and industry-level data to identify countries and industries characterized by a comparative advantage in female labor. They find evidence suggesting a strong link between a country’s specialization and its measures of female labor participation consistent with theories of brain-based technological bias and factor endowments trade theories. Using firm-level data, the authors then study whether trade empowers female entrepreneurs in country/industry pairs that exhibit comparative advantage. They conclude that the evidence supports the view that exposure to trade disproportionately affects firms in country/industry pairs with a comparative advantage in female labor—both in terms of female employment and female entrepreneurship and ownership—for the MENA countries and the period they study.

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