My co-author, Yu-Ming Liou, and I wrote this for the ISQ blog when we published our article on the gendered resource curse, Oil, Autocratic Survival, and the Gendered Resource Curse, explaining how oil rents can lead to worse political outcomes for women. But I don’t think ISQ ever used it, so I’m using it now.
Generally, increasing gender equality accompanies economic development. Figure 1 shows this relationship: as GDP per capita increases (rightward along the x-axis), gender inequality tends to decline (downward along the y-axis).
Social scientists and casual observers have long recognized that oil-rich countries like Saudi Arabia form an important exception to this rule. As Figure 2 demonstrates, autocratic countries that receive more than $1,000 per capita in income from oil and natural gas (shown in red) tend to have greater levels of gender inequality at nearly every level of income.
Why does oil income affect gender equality differently than other sources of wealth? We argue that this discrepancy results from a set of policies that oil-rich autocrats pursue to consolidate their hold in power. As we explain more below (and in the paper), the greater rulers’ dependence on political elites who value ideological fidelity, the more likely rulers are to enact the ideologically-informed policies they demand—even when those policies harm national welfare and make it harder to pay off supporters demanding more traditional forms of patronage.