The similarities between the labor market supply of women with a Middle Eastern background living in Europe and those of women living in the Middle East is of particular interest. Indeed, empirical evidence shows that Female Labor Force Participation (FLFP) of immigrants reflects to a large extent the FLFP of country of origin, with women from more conservative societies tending to participate less in the labor market than natives or immigrants from countries with a high FLFP. This impacts the host country’s FLFP at an aggregate level. Therefore, from a European perspective, understanding the determinants of female labor supply in the conservative societies, such as countries from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region is of particular interest, considering the high share of this group among immigrants. Hence, this empirical research focuses on the role of education, especially higher education, and social norms in MENA on the choice of women to work outside. The region has achieved substantial progress in educating women, increasingly so at the tertiary level and across disciplines, but its FLFP remains the lowest among all regions.

Our paper empirically investigates the impact of education with emphasis on higher education on FLFP and the relationship between social norms and female labor supply in a representative city in MENA, namely Amman, Jordan, as a proxy for MENA. Our analysis shows that higher education (post-secondary/university/post-university) has a positive and significant impact on FLFP, whereas secondary and below do not. In addition, there is a strong negative and statistically significant association between traditional social norms and the participation of women in the labor force. The findings pose the question of whether additional policies and actions are needed to change institutions and attitudes toward women’s work in general, as well as improve the economic opportunities of women who have secondary education which affects the bulk of working age women.