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Conflicts, Development, Human Rights

Inequality of opportunity in Egypt

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Since the beginning of the “Arab Spring” in December 2010, governments in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya have fallen, while protests and strife continue in Syria, Yemen and other nations. The source of the discontent was diverse, but deeply felt — decades of struggling under authoritarian regimes, certainly, but also high rates of unemployment and a grinding sense of inequality.

A 2011 study published in The World Bank Economic Review, “Inequality of Opportunity in Egypt,” uses population data to try to understand how the lack of opportunity contributes to earnings inequality across three time periods and different groups. The study seeks to “distinguish inequalities due to unequal opportunities from inequalities due
to individual choices,” in order to

The study’s findings include:

  • Between 1988 and 1998, earnings inequality in Egypt declined slightly before increasing substantially in 2006.
  • Between 1988 and 2006, opportunity inequality was relatively stable, with a “modest decrease” in 1998. Because of the increase in earnings inequality, the contribution of opportunity inequality to earnings inequality declined from 22% in 1988 to 15% in 2006.
  • Unequal opportunities that contributed to income inequality were most closely associated with a person’s gender, his or her father’s and mother’s education, the father’s occupation, and the person’s region of birth. Overall, “the father’s background and geographic origins had the largest effect on earnings.”
  • The researcher concludes, “Egypt’s transition to a more market-oriented economy since the early 2000s, together with rising inflation, might have contributed to widening income differentials. Expansion of intermediate and higher education between 1988 and 1998, followed by slower expansion from 1998 onward, especially affecting underprivileged social groups might have contributed to equalizing opportunities during the first period and limited the increase in earnings gaps between circumstance groups in the second period.”

With respect to policy implications, the author writes, “These findings suggest that policies aimed at reducing the earnings effect of father’s education and skills and of regional origins would help reduce inequality of opportunities in Egypt.”

Tags: Middle East, poverty

    Writer: | Last updated: November 30, 2011

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    Analysis assignments

    Read the study "Inequality of Opportunity in Egypt."

    1. Summarize the study in fewer than 40 words.
    2. Express the study's key term(s) in language a lay audience can understand.
    3. Evaluate the study's limitations. (For example: Do the results conflict with those of other reliable studies? Are there weaknesses in the study's data or research design?)

    Read the issue-related New York Times article "Euphoria Turns to Discontent as Egypt’s Revolution Stalls."

    1. If you were to revise the article based on knowledge of the study, what key changes would you make?

    Newswriting assignments

    1. Write a lead (or headline or nut graph) based on the study.
    2. Spend 60 minutes exploring the issue by accessing sources of information other than the study. Write a lead (or headline or nut graph) based on the study but informed by the new information. Does the new information significantly change what one would write based on the study alone?
    3. Interview two sources with a stake in or knowledge of the issue. Be prepared to provide them with a short summary of the study in order to get their response to it. Write a 400-word article about the study incorporating material from the interviews.
    4. Spend additional time exploring the issue and then write a 1,200-word background article, focusing on major aspects of the issue.