Economists have long pointed to the “natural resource curse” as an explanation for why countries rich in natural resources often have high levels of poverty. Generalizing broadly, the idea is that natural resources have ripple effects on the rest of the economy, including (among a number of other results) creating disincentives for both the development of other areas of the economy and education. The result: all except the few who directly benefit from the resources face weak job markets with little education, and hence, poverty.
Now, the Washington Post reports that a study by UCLA political scientist Michael Ross suggests that natural resources curse extends to women’s rights as well. Ross looked specifically at countries rich in oil, and found that there is a correlation between oil wealth and lack of women’s rights. Why? Oil wealth, like other kinds of mineral wealth, creates disincentives for development of other industries and particularly of the low end manufacturing jobs that tend to be women’s first point of entry into work outside the home. Working outside the home, in turn, is one of the major social developments catalyzing increased participation in other aspects of social life, including politics, and increased pressure for rights for women. According to the Post article, “for every $1280 increase in per capita oil profits, Ross shows that there is a 2 percent decrease in the number of elected female leaders, an effect that is powerful because it grows cumulatively over time.” A curse indeed.