He says veiling is rising amidst Muslim women. Importantly it is rising among educated urban women.
There has been a dramatic and widespread rise in veiling since the 1970s, known as the ‘new veiling movement.’ By veiling, we mean the various concealing forms of headcovering and dress worn by Muslim women. In 1969, veiled women were rarely seen in Cairo’s public spaces (Abu-Lughod 1971). By 2000, over 80 percent of Cairene women wore some form of headcovering (Bayat 2007). This pattern has been repeated in other Muslim societies and among Muslim minorities around the world.1 The new veiling movement has important economic consequences for women’s educational and labor market choices. It also exhibits several puzzling features which defy conventional theories of religion and identity. Most strikingly, the movement appears to have originated among urban, educated, working, middle-class women (e.g. El Guindi 1981, Hoodfar 1991, Mule & Barthel 1992, Smith-Hefner 2007).
Why is this happening? Veiling acts as a commitment mechanism which limits temptation to violate religious norms. It also acts as a signal for others:
This paper introduces the new veiling movement to the economics of identity literature (Akerlof & Kranton 2010, Austen-Smith & Fryer 2005, Fang & Loury 2005), which includes work on related phenomena such as “acting white” among African Americans. Our aim is to explain the origins of the new veiling movement and determine the effects of regulating veiling. In attempting to do so, we draw upon developments in behavioral economics and modern game theory that have economists well placed to contribute to such a debate.
In our model of social identity, veiling acts as a commitment mechanism which limits temptation to violate religious norms of behavior.3 Agents who succumb to temptation experience regret and/or social disapproval. Social influence operates in a novel way: agents care about the opinions of other members of their community, even if these opinions proceed from different values to their own. The greater the prevalence of religious types, the more heavily religious values weigh in community opinions. Hence the demand for veiling is highest among women from highly religious communities who interact in irreligious (high-temptation) environments.
Veiling helps balance things:
This enables us to link the new veiling movement to economic and social changes experienced by Muslim women around this time. The most important changes were urbanization and migration, especially to Europe and the United States, as well as the related influx of women into formal education and employment, which broke down the customary segregation of the sexes. These developments created a tension. Exploiting new economic opportunities meant exposure to environments in which liberal mores and opportunities for religiously prohibited behavior prevailed. Hence, the price of economic integration might have been social disapproval. Veiling emerged as a strategy to balance these competing concerns, by publicly committing an individual to religious standards of behavior. Hence, our theory provides a unified framework for understanding certain patterns of veiling in predominantly Muslim and non-Muslim societies. It suggests one possible explanation for the prominent role played by urban, educated, working women in the new veiling movement, especially those from traditional rural backgrounds (MacLeod 1991).
This has policy implications as well. Countries which ban veiling or look to ban veiling, it could prove counterprodcutive:
Bans on veiling aimed at secularization and cultural assimilation can be self defeating, inhibiting social integration and increasing religiosity. If the returns to education and formal employment are low relative to the personal and reputational costs of deveiling, then a ban on veiling induces religious types to forego economic opportunities and segregate in their local community as a (costly) substitute for veiling. This can accentuate differences in behavior across types and thereby raise returns to religious education. On the other hand, if the economic opportunities available to Muslim women are attractive enough for them to continue to integrate without veiling, then bans on veiling do indeed lead to secularization. Of course, the right policy on veiling is a broader matter of justice, beyond the scope of this paper. But our framework does suggest that the effects of a ban on veiling may depend on the economic opportunities available to Muslim women.
Fascinating application of economic ideas into figuring trends among communities..