How age and education affect female employment in Egypt

This is part two of a series of articles spotlighting the findings of a recent report by the International Labor Organization – as part of the Advancing the Decent Work Agenda in North Africa (ADWA) Project – and the Economic Research Forum, titled ‘Regional Report on Jobs and Growth in North Africa.’

Established in part one of this series, employment and unemployment rates are not straightforward indicators of economic growth. Growing employment and decreasing unemployment do not always mean the same thing – it could simply be that there are less people looking for jobs, giving off the illusion of decreasing unemployment.

Likewise, the gender gap in the labor market is not so simple to derive conclusions from. Egypt’s current government has, for the past few years, taken many steps to close the gender gap and encourage female participation in the workforce. To that end, Egypt, in collaboration with the World Economic Forum, became the first MENA country to launch a ‘Closing the Gender Gap Accelerator’ action plan. At the decision-making level, women make up 24 percent of ministers and 27 percent of parliament members. At the general public level, it is a different story.

As it stands, female participation in the workforce is at 24.4 percent (2017 figure), which despite its modesty, is a slight improvement from the 2000 level of 22.4 percent

“In 2017, the male participation rate was 70.3 percent, while the female rate was only 24.4 percent. Although the overall participation rate among working-age individuals (15–64) remained around 48 percent during the 2000–17 period, its evolution was not stable,” explains the report.

What’s age got to do with it?

Age is an important factor impacting the employment rate across genders and educational levels. It is, however, more pronounced with women. For instance, above 90 percent of men in the age groups 25 to 34 and 35 to 59 are employed or participate in the labor market one way or another. For women, in 2017, the figures stood at 32.1 percent and 24.4 percent.

Despite the figures being modest for women, they actually represent a slight improvement from the year 2000 – the first year of the report’s analysis.

In fact, “unemployment fluctuated more among men than among women in the 2000–17 period. For instance, between 2010 and 2013, the unemployment rate for men doubled, from 4.8 to 9.9 percent, while the unemployment rate for women increased by 7 percent.”

“The overall increase in the female participation rate over the 2000–17 period was mainly driven by a notable rise among women aged 15–34, especially between 2010 and 2016,” adds the report.

Other factors, such as the level of education, tell a different story.

Education level

In the report, education levels are divided into three main categories: no certificate; secondary school graduates; and university graduates. Women in each of these categories witnessed different conditions and levels of participation in the labor force. Men’s education levels, however, did not quite have a prominent impact on their participation in the workforce. That could be, in part, due to cultural norms that expect men to be the breadwinners despite their education level or age.

“Male participation is not highly correlated with education, varying only between men with less than secondary education (77 percent) and among post-secondary and university graduates (90 percent) in 2017,” revealed the report.

“Conversely, female participation is strongly associated with education; as in 2017, it increased very sharply with the level of education, rising from 16 to 17 percent among women with no certificate or with less than secondary education, to 34 percent among secondary school graduates and then doubling among post-secondary and university graduates (65 percent). Between 2008 and 2017, male labour force participation decreased at all educational levels, while female labour force participation increased at all educational levels.”

Participation in the workforce is one thing, and employment level is another. It could be that women’s participation in the workforce increased as an overall percentage of the labor market, only for the employment rate amongst women to have actually decreased in the same period – which is the case here.

Between 2008 and 2018, “employment rates declined at all educational levels except among women with less than secondary education, for whom it increased sharply.”

“This trend is particularly concerning for educated women. Assaad et al. (2020) explain this decline by the fall in public employment, which used to be the major employer of educated women,” explained the report.

This brings us to how employment type; public or private; formal or informal; impact women employment and participation in general.

Employment type

As mentioned, the private sector has for decades been a primary employer of women. They get stable jobs with guaranteed working hours, maternity rights and social protection – all factors that majorly appeal to women, particularly the more educated they are.

“Women, the more educated and people working in certain sectors, like public administration, mining and quarrying, information and communication, among others, have greater access to protected jobs,” explained the report.

“The distribution of employment by sex is clearly segmented. In 2017, informal employment had become the main type of employment for men (24 percent were outside establishments and 15 percent in establishments). Formal employment (19 percent in the public sector and 13 percent in the private sector) came only in second place. Non-wage employment represented a significant part of total male employment (12 percent as employers and 14 percent as self-employed) and contributing family work was almost non-existent (4 percent),” highlighted the report.

On the other hand, total protected employment, in particular the public sector and the private sector “represented an important share of total female employment,” at 33 percent and 8 percent, respectively.

“Another notable gender difference is the large share of female contributing family workers, at 25 percent,” read the report, referring to the type of low-responsibility employment in an establishment run by a family member, like a farm or a company.

“Contributing family work decreased with age among men, it increased with age among women,” adds the report.


Women’s participation in the workforce is an important indicator that can determine the health of any economy. Despite consistent government efforts in recent years, it seems that Egyptian women are yet to take on a proportionate share in the country’s labor force. While men worked across all ages, educational levels and industries, for women, “the job composition by industry reflects their preference for formal jobs or jobs inside of establishments if they could not have a formal job.”

Furthermore, over the decade preceding 2017, “there has been a clear deterioration in the quality of jobs. Protected employment in the public sector has fallen sharply and has not been replaced by formal employment in the private sector but by an increase in informal employment within and outside establishments” all of which disproportionately impact women.

“The female employment rate remains among the lowest in the world, and although it has increased over the entire period studied, it has recently declined. Although the female unemployment rate has fallen, it remains three times higher than the male unemployment rate and the share of female discouraged job-seekers is not only much higher than that of men but it has increased more markedly over the years,” concludes the report.

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