Published on Let's Talk Development

Morocco: Exploring women’s low labor force participation

Femmes du Haut Atlas au Maroc - Photo : Shanti Hesse/ Femmes du Haut Atlas au Maroc - Photo : Shanti Hesse/

Bringing women into the labor market has been a persistent challenge for Morocco. From a macroeconomic point of view, increasing female labor market participation (FLFP) would improve the country’s productive capacity and support growth, while from a microeconomic point of view, it can help women gain voice in society, leading households to invest more in education and health.

To date, there are few – and mostly out-of-date – micro studies on why Morocco’s FLFP remains so low. Our paper, “Trends and Determinants of Female Labor Force Participation in Morocco: An Initial Exploratory Analysis,” provides insight into the challenges that Morocco faces. It begins with a profile of Morocco’s workers, as demographics play a vital role in determining participation rates, and then analyzes the individual and household characteristics that keep women out of the labor force. The data come from 18 cross-sectional waves of the National Employment Survey between 2001 and 2018, three waves of the World Values Surveys between 2001 and 2011, and four waves of the Arab Barometer between 2006 and 2017.

Morocco’s FLFP has remained one of the lowest in the world and is even lower than it was two decades ago – despite higher GDP per capita, lower fertility rate, and better access to education. At 21.6 percent, its FLFP rate ranked 180th out of a sample of 189 countries in 2018, meaning that 78.4 percent of Moroccan women between 15 and 65 years old were neither employed nor looking for a job. 

Moreover, although the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region is characterized by historically low FLFP rates,  Morocco is among the few countries that have recorded a sustained drop – and it is the one that has experienced declining FLFP for the longest span of time, peaking at 26.3 percent in 2004. If this trend persists, in a few years Morocco’s FLFP rate could be below the region’s average, given that it is now just slightly above the MENA average of 21 percent.

Demographics Play a Vital Role in Labor Force Participation Rates 

Our profile of Morocco’s workers shows that while both female and male overall labor force participation rates have declined over the past 20 years, a 50-percentage-point gender gap persists (figure 1), following different dynamics in urban and rural areas). For men, this decline is mostly present in youth mainly because of greater education enrollment, while for women this phenomenon touches all ages and is not necessarily correlated with education enrollment. These gender and demographic dimensions shape not only labor force participation rates but also employment and unemployment.

Figure 1. Big gap persists between female and male labor force participation rates 


Share population +15 chart

Source : HCP Enquête National sur l’emploi (ENE), 2001-2018

Overall, these patterns reveal the existence of two different labor markets: one in rural areas, where employment and participation are higher for both genders, and another in urban areas, where inactivity is extremely high for women and relatively low but increasing for men.

Gender Roles Also Matter, Especially for Female Labor Force Participation

What are the challenges affecting female insertion into the labor market? To answer this, we estimate probit models and a multinomial logit model. Our results show that there are individual and household characteristics keeping women out of the labor force, given that urban job creation in Morocco has not offset agricultural job destruction. These characteristics are on top of the precondition of an overall decrease in labor force participation rates for both genders. Our key findings are:

  • Higher educational attainment for women means more participation, although this relationship has decreased over time. The effect of women’s education differs greatly across areas and educational levels.
  • The better the education of the head of household, the more likely that a woman will remain out of the labor force. These effects acquire greater importance over time, especially in rural households. 
  • Being married reduces the probability of participation. While in urban areas remaining single reduces the probability of being inactive force by 30 percent, in rural areas, it does so by 20 percent. 
  • The presence of other inactive women in the household increases the probability of a woman being inactive. These effects increase over time in both rural and urban areas. 

What other factors can be behind the declining trend in FLFP? For example, a restricted demand for female employment may be associated with traditional attitudes toward women’s work, which pulls women out of the labor force

When Moroccans were asked in 2011 about their level of agreement with the statement that “Men should have more right to a job than women when jobs are scarce,” 75 percent of men and 47 percent of women agreed. Thus, considering the case in which men are making labor supply decisions for women, we would expect lower participation among women than among men because of the deeply rooted idea that men have to be the breadwinners and should have priority access to job vacancies, whereas women should focus on domestic work.

When Moroccans were asked their opinion on the claim that “Women can work outside home if she wishes,” 14.8 percent of women and 35.6 percent of men disagreed. Clearly, a higher share of women than men think women have a right to work.

The bottom line is that Morocco has yet to see the benefit in female labor force participation arising from development. A persistent gender gap between men and women suggest a lack of sufficient new urban jobs to offset rural job destruction. At the same time, urban female unemployment rates are higher than those in rural areas, suggesting the increase in inactivity might be caused by discouraged women. Demographic characteristics such as the number of children, marital status, education of the head of household and education of the women also play an important role in determining female inactivity. Moreover, gender roles may potentially drive women out of the labor market and slow the recovery in women’s participation.


Gladys Lopez-Acevedo

Lead Economist and Program Lead, Poverty & Equity GP, World Bank

Florencia Devoto

Project Director, Morocco Employment Lab, J-PAL Middle East and North Africa

Jaime Alfonso Roche Rodriguez

Consultant, Poverty and Equity Global Practice, World Bank

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