Friday, March 7, 2014


There is a very interesting paper that recently got published in the Econometrica using a Regression Discontinuity design. The focus is the impact of Islamic rule on the education choices of young women.
Meyersson uses Turkish elections data and focuses on a particular time in history, 1994 Turkish elections, that brought Islamists to power in the mayoral elections. In economics it is difficult to separate causality from correlation. Say, if there are fewer women going to school in a district that an Islamist party governs, is this because of the Islamist party rule or did the Islamists come to power simply because the region is dominated by an Islamist minded populace where it is the norm for girls to drop out of school after puberty?
Meyersson first shows the expected, i.e. that there is a negative correlation between an Islamist win in a region and the school completion by women. Again, remember this is not causality but rather correlation. Then he classifies mayoral districts by the percentage win/loss of Islamists and focuses on the discontinuity of an Islamist win vs an Islamist loss, say comparing districts where Islamists lost the election by a small margin of 1-2% vs. the districts where Islamists won by a margin of 1-2%. These are the districts where you can take a better snapshot of the real Islamic influence on girls' education, as the district could have gone either way. If it did go Islamic then how did this influence girls' education vs. if it did not? That's an excellent question and great research design. As you can imagine Islamists shouldn't have a positive or negative influence in the municipalities where they lose the elections. (this might actually be more complicated, but I will try to be brief in this post)
Meyersson finds that in fact girls' school attendance beyond puberty as well as middle school and high school completion rates increase in regions that were narrowly won by Islamist parties. This is a very striking result. In Turkey municipalities do not build or administer schools. Meyersson offers two potential causal explanations of why girls' school attendance increased under Refah:
1. That, with a new local government, the state schools became more open to allowing girls with headscarves to attend classes against the central government's wishes.
2. With the Refah municipality in power private religious schools and vakif schools became more active in these districts.
It's an excellent paper.