Education key to assimilation, study says

Arab American women don’t necessarily get an education for a career; it can also be an equalizer and social capital.

April 09, 2008|By Daniel Tedford

Far fewer Arab American women, 67.5%, get jobs compared to white women, 82%, according to the 2000 U.S. census.

While some may see this as a troubling trend that points to inequality, some Arab American women would disagree, according to a recent UCI study.

For some Arab American women, getting an education is an asset, not to achieve career goals, but to help raise a family, according to the study published in the April issue of the American Sociological Review.


“Education comes into play because educated women have more skills and resources needed to navigate the American social system,” author of the study and UCI professor Jen’nan Read said. “The fact that female education is highly valued suggests stereotypes are off.”

According to census data, while more white educated women are working, more Arab American women are educated by comparison with 37% of working-age Arab American women having received a bachelor’s degree or higher, while 29% of working-age white women have the same education among their peers.

“[In our culture] woman have often relied on their husbands for money, their home and food,” UCI political science major Zeinab Najaf said. “My mom does not have an education, and the values that she instilled in me were to get an education and do the things she couldn’t do.”

Read’s two-year in-depth interviewing process on 40 Muslim and Christian Arab Americans in Houston showed that above career, family values mattered most for Arab Americans.

These cultures don’t see day-care or baby sitters as a positive way to help raise children, Read said, and those cultural influences ask that at least one parent must be at home to take care of the children, a similar mind-set to 1950s America, Read said.

“They are very similar to what we used to look like,” Read said. “It shouldn’t be seen as these women are being kept home.”

Some ethnic groups see the American family structure as broken with latchkey kids, drugs and alcohol, Read said. These ethnic groups, such as Arab Americans, will assimilate to American culture in other ways, but choose not to in terms of family.

While some women use their skills for “market” purposes, these women are more inclined to use their education to benefit family and community, what Read refers to as “social capital.”

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