Culture and gender roles: Evidence from a natural experiment in Post-Soviet Central Asia

Type Working Paper
Title Culture and gender roles: Evidence from a natural experiment in Post-Soviet Central Asia
Publication (Day/Month/Year) 2001
Examining characteristics of traditional nomadic herding cultures and traditional sedentary
farming cultures, both of which are deeply established in Central Asian history, I contribute to
the literature on the foundations and persistence of gender roles in culture. Using a natural
experiment resulting from a series of events in Kyrgyzstan during the Soviet rule of Central Asia
that exogenously determined district-level cultural composition, I investigate whether there is
greater gender inequality today amongst individuals from traditional sedentary farming cultures
(in contrast to traditional nomadic herding cultures). This approach is unique from the standard
epidemiological approach to studies of culture, which look at immigrants in new setting with a
set of institutions and environment, to which they typically only bring their culture. In contrast,
the Soviet rule of Central Asia provides a setting in which, once the district-level cultural
compositions were exogenously arranged, a set of new standardized policies and institutions
were universally implemented to wipe out the gender inequality in the region. Results indicate
that the Soviet policies were quite effective at improving educational institutions; however, it
appears as though differences between cultures in other indicators of gender inequality persist,
including those that might affect females’ ability to participate in the labor force. These include
the use of contraception and gender roles in time intensive home production activities, such as
water collection. Results also indicate that perceptions of domestic violence differ along these
historical cultural lines.

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