How Cities Erode Gender Inequality: A New Theory and Evidence from Cambodia

Abstract:

Support for gender equality has risen, globally. Analyses of this trend focus on individual and/or country-level characteristics. But this overlooks sub-national variation. Citydwellers are more likely to support gender equality in education, employment, leadership, and leisure. Why is this? This paper investigates the causes of rural-urban differences through comparative, qualitative research. It centres on Cambodia, where the growth of rural garment factories enables us to test theories that female employment fosters support for gender equality: potentially closing rural-urban differences; or whether other important aspects of city-living accelerate support for gender equality. Drawing on this rural and urban fieldwork, the paper suggests why social change is faster in Cambodian cities. First, cities raise the opportunity costs of gender divisions of labour – given higher living costs and more economic opportunities for women. Second, cities increase exposure to alternatives. People living in more interconnected, heterogeneous, densely populated areas are more exposed to women demonstrating their equal competence in socially valued, masculine domains. Third, they have more avenues to collectively contest established practices. Association and exposure reinforce growing flexibility in gender divisions of labour. By investigating the causes of subnational variation, this paper advances a new theory of growing support for gender equality.

CID Faculty Working Paper Series: 356