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Education, religion, and voter preference in a Muslim country

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Using a unique survey of adults in Turkey, we find that an increase in educational attainment, due to an exogenous secular education reform, decreased women’s propensity to identify themselves as religious, lowered their tendency to wear a religious head cover (head scarf, turban, or burka) and increased the tendency for modernity. We also find that education has a negative impact on women’s propensity to vote for Islamic parties. The effect of female education on religiosity is driven by those who reside in urban areas. There is no statistically significant impact of education on male religiosity and tendency to vote for Islamic parties. Increased education does not influence the propensity to cast a vote in national elections for either men or women.

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  1. See the appendix to Cesur and Mocan (2013) for a brief history of Islamic political movement in Turkey and the concept of Islamic political parties.

  2. See Table 10 for basic information on these countries.

  3. Praying five times a day and fasting during the month of Ramadan are two of the five requirements of Islam, by which each religious Muslim must abide.

  4. While the outcomes studied by Gulesci and Meyersson (2014) differ from the ones analyzed in our study, these two studies are, for the most part, complementary to each other.

  5. Resmi Gazete; Friday, August 7, 1992, Section 14.

  6. See the Appendix to Cesur and Mocan (2013) for the details on this point and the political landscape in Turkey in 1997.

  7. Girls can also attend these religious vocational schools, although they are not allowed to be clerics upon graduation by the rules of Islam.




  11. In addition, each month’s survey is organized around a unique socio-political theme. Detailed information on 2012 KONDA Barometer themes can be found at the following link:

  12. The monthly surveys, upon which the data are based, are not conducted on behalf of a particular political party or organization, nor are they sold to such organizations. Instead, these data are used to conduct independent political analyses as well as to predict political trends and election outcomes. KONDA has outstanding record of predicting the outcomes of recent Turkish elections using these same data, which minimizes any concerns about the reliability of the information provided by the respondents. In fact, the accuracy of their election predictions attracted media coverage both in Turkey (e.g., Milliyet 2007, Sabah 2011) and internationally (e.g., The Economist 2007, 2008; Reuters 2011).

  13. Variations in this window did not alter the point estimates, although small intervals reduced the sample size and the precision of the estimated coefficients. We elaborate on this in the robustness section.

  14. We compared this information to the 2012 Turkish Household Labor Force Survey that is obtained from Turkish Statistical Institute. This institute is a government agency, responsible for collecting data on a variety of indicators, ranging from labor markets to financial markets. The Turkish Household Labor Force Survey is similar in its design to the Current Population Survey in the USA. Using about 80,000 females in the relevant age range, we plotted the proportion with at least a middle school degree in Appendix Fig. 18, which exhibits a pattern similar to Figure 1.

  15. The exact wording of these alternatives as posed to the individuals are: inancsiz, inancli, dindar, sofu.

  16. The details of the turban issue are summarized in the Appendix to Cesur and Mocan 2013.

  17. A “turban” does not refer to the type of head gear worn by Sikhs. A picture of a woman wearing a turban is provided at the end of the Appendix.

  18. A TESEV report (Çarkoğlu and Toprak, p. 24) found that in 2006 about 49% of women wore a headscarf, 11% wore a turban, and 1% wore a burka. These rates are very similar to the rates found in our data.

  19. Turkey, founded in 1923, gave suffrage to women in local elections in 1930. Women gained full suffrage (any type of election) in 1934, and 18 women were elected to the parliament in the general elections of 1935.

  20. People’s Voice Party (HAS) merged with the Justice and Progress Party (AKP) in September 2012.

  21. The details of the Islamic Party movement in Turkey are provided in the Appendix.

  22. Political scientists use the term “Islamic Party” to describe a political party that stems from Islamic roots (Fuller 2004; Roy 1994) and as Cesur and Mocan (2013) described in the Appendix, this is the case for the parties listed here. In particular, although the Justice and Development Party (AKP) is trying to appeal to a wider voter base, it is clearly an Islamic party (Taşpınar 2012, Roy 2012).

  23. In the regression of atheism in Table 2, only 53 people (1.12% of the sample) are atheists. These individuals, however, reported a religious sect such as Sunni or Alevite Shii’te, suggesting that for them this is cultural, rather than religious identity.

  24. In Turkey, voting is compulsory and there is a monetary penalty associated with non-voting. Although the 22.5 Turkish Lira penalty (about US$13) for not voting is not substantial, and enforcement is spotty, compulsory voting which has been in effect since 1986 is likely the reason for high rates of voter turnout which is usually greater than 85%.

  25. These estimates, which are not reported in the interest of space, are available from the authors upon request.

  26. We also estimated our specifications by assigning 0.5 to the treatment status of those born in 1986. This exercise also produced similar results.

  27. In fact, AKP has governed Turkey since 2002.

  28. The exception is column (2) where the first-stage is not powerful and the estimated coefficient of education is greater than one.

  29. As we have done throughout the paper, those who are 26 years old in 2012 are excluded in the benchmark models because some individuals of this cohort may be exposed to the law while some other are certainly not exposed.

  30. We also re-estimated the effect of education on religiosity of men using the urban and rural samples. These estimates did not produce results which are different from the baseline specification among males that are shown in panel B of Table 5.

  31. With the exception of Israel and Cyprus, the predominant religion in these countries is Islam. See Table 10 in the Appendix about income, education, religiosity and democracy in these countries.

  32. This explanation is consistent with that reported by Cannonier and Mocan (2017) who found that exposure to an education reform in Sierra Leone has changed the preferences of women regarding matters that impact women’s well-being, although the quality of schooling received was likely very low.


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We are grateful to Bekir Ağırdır for providing us with the data and to Eren Pultar and Aydın Erdem for generously sharing their expertise of the survey. We thank Luiza Pogorelova and Bahadır Dursun for excellent research assistance, and Dani Rodrik, Michael Grossman, Leyla Mocan, Alper Dinçer, Murat Kirdar, Sezgin Polat, Ayça Akarçay Gürbüz, Etienne Lehmann, Nurhan Davutyan, Claudine Desrieux, Barış Kaymak, Damba Lkhagvasuren, Duha Altındağ, Meltem Daysal, Mircea Trandafir, Mickael Bech, Mette Ejrnaes, Giovanni Prarolo, and seminar participants at ASREC 2014 Annual Meeting, ERMES-Universite de Paris II, Kadir Has University, Concordia University, ERG-Sabanci University, University of Copenhagen, University of Southern Denmark, and LSU for helpful comments. Two anonymous referees provided valuable suggestions.

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Correspondence to Resul Cesur.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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Responsible editor: Erdal Tekin



Fig. 8
figure 8

Proportion of females with at least middle school education Turkish Statistical Institute Data

Fig. 9
figure 9

The effect of reform on female middle school graduation net of exogenous controls

Fig. 10
figure 10

The effect of reform on male middle school graduation net of exogenous controls

Fig. 11
figure 11

The effect of reform on propensity to wear head cover net of exogenous controls

Fig. 12
figure 12

The effect of reform on female modern lifestyle propensity net of exogenous controls

Fig. 13
figure 13

The effect of reform on male modern lifestyle propensity net of exogenous controls

Fig. 14
figure 14

The effect of reform on female islamic voting propensity net of exogenous controls

Fig. 15
figure 15

The effect of reform on male islamic voting propensity net of exogenous controls

Table 10 Selected attributes of a sample of countries in the Middle East, North Africa, and Europe
Table 11 The joint distribution of voters for an Islamic Party in 2011 and now (in 2012)
Table 12 The impact of education on religiosity, the propensity to cast a vote, and the propensity to vote for an Islamic Party reduced form regressions
Table 13 The impact of education on religiosity, the propensity to cast a vote, and the propensity to vote for an Islamic party—instrumental variables regressions treatment is coded = 0.33 for the 1986 birth cohort
Table 14 The impact of education on religiosity, the propensity to cast a vote, and the propensity to vote for an Islamic party—instrumental variables regressions excluding students
Table 15 The impact of education on the propensity to vote for an Islamic party if elections were held today (in 2012)—instrumental variables regressions with control variables measuring personal economic circumstances
Table 16 The impact of education on religiosity, the propensity to cast a vote, and the propensity to vote for an Islamic party—instrumental variables regressions birth cohort intervals (1980 to 1992) and (1982 to 1992)
Table 17 Descriptive statistics of the 2008 sample used in Tables 7, 8, 18, and 19
Table 18 The impact of exposure to the placebo treatment on the propensity to have at least 8 years of education—OLS regressions (arrow B in Table 6)
Table 19 Reduced form estimates of the impact of placebo treatment on modernity and wearing a head cover—OLS regressions (arrow B in Table 6)

A Religious “Turban” as worn by an actress in a movie

figure a

Photo credit: May, 2013.

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Cesur, R., Mocan, N. Education, religion, and voter preference in a Muslim country. J Popul Econ 31, 1–44 (2018).

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