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By Dr. Adeline Nembot (Download PDF)

The Role of Education in the Career Choices of Married Women in Cameroon


Education tends to open up a variety of opportunities for those who acquire it, including a wider range of labor market opportunities, such as occupying high segments of the labor market. Of course, people choose to work in occupations that best match their individual characteristics, notably educational qualifications and experience. However, this evidence seems to be unclear among African women, especially married women in Cameroon.

Although several NGOs advocate for women’s human rights to work in Cameroon, married women’s work decisions are largely dependent on their husbands’ opinions. According to the Cameroonian Civil Registry (Ordinance No. 81-02, Art. 74(2) of June 29, 1981), a married woman’s husband may object to the exercise of a job in the interest of the marriage or their children (1). This arrangement gives husbands the power to define what is appropriate for their wives and denies wives the right to freely choose what they wish to work.

Despite the efforts of policymakers to improve women’s education in Cameroon, the role of education in the specific case of married women’s occupational choices needs to be elucidated. Therefore, this article goes beyond gender discrimination to examine marital issues in occupational choice. Therefore, this article is addressed to stakeholders, including Cameroonian married women and men, the Cameroonian government, employers, NGOs, and national and international institutions that promote women’s empowerment. The paper is divided into two sections: first, the role of education in women’s occupational choices by marital status, and second, how educated married and unmarried women choose their sectors of activity.

Education and Women Decision to Work

Human capital theorists have previously confirmed that investment in education increases skills, labor market productivity and the opportunity cost of labor market participation, all of which are rewarded by higher wages (2). Despite the high proportion of working women in sub-Saharan Africa, the government of Cameroon recognizes that women are increasingly participating in the labor market at a rate of about 72% (3). However, more education for women does not necessarily translate into a wider range of decent job opportunities. Irrespective of women’s level of education, they generally face a higher risk of unemployment, are less likely to be employed on stable, lifelong contracts, often have more difficulty finding a first job, and are more likely to work part-time.

In Cameroon, unmarried women are on average better educated than married women (7.7 years of schooling versus 5.4 years), but married women are more represented in the labor market than unmarried women (75% versus 55%), with a significant difference of 20%. However, these unmarried women represent only 20% of the workforce, with the majority of them confined to the informal sector and other family and social responsibilities (4). This observation suggests that on the demand side of the labor market, most employers are reluctant to hire married women. This is not only because of their low skills and limited access to training facilities, but also because of their intense involvement in household chores, family demands, childbearing and childrearing responsibilities.

At this level, standard labor market participation provides only a partial picture of what motivates women to engage in market work. For example, the extent to which education affects women’s decision to work is likely to be influenced by individual trade-offs between labor market and family responsibilities, as well as by culturally imposed norms for women, regardless of their level of education (5). As a result, most uneducated women are more likely to participate in informal employment and subsistence activities, while women with primary education enter the labor force only out of family necessity, and highly educated women are encouraged by competitive and higher-paid work skills (6).

The Choice of Occupation by Educated Married and Unmarried Women

Education is an important factor that either increases or decreases the probability of women’s engagement in particular occupations. Educated unmarried women like their married counterparts find the agricultural sector somehow unattractive in Cameroon. While unmarried women find office work, trade, services, and unskilled work attractive, only trade and unskilled work appear to be attractive to married women. In essence, an additional year of education decreases the probability of farming and related work by 1.7% among unmarried women and by 3.1% among married women.

This supports the idea that investment in education may be at the root of the transition of women from subsistence agriculture to more valued economic activities. An additional year of schooling increases the probability of choosing trade by 0.7% and 1.7% among unmarried and married women, respectively.

Similarly, an additional year of schooling increases the probability of choosing unskilled work by 0.21% and 0.46% among unmarried and married women, respectively (7). Hence, these differences in probability indicate that more education has a larger effect on occupational choices among married women than their unmarried counterparts. In particular, married women are more inclined in choosing trading and unskilled work compared to the unmarried women.

Even though the effects of education are larger for married women, they are likely to engage in a narrower range of non-agricultural occupations. While unmarried women find office, trade, services and unskilled manual work more attractive, only trade and unskilled manual work appear to be significantly appealing to married women. Thus, for unmarried women, an additional year of schooling increases the probability of engaging in trade, services, office and unskilled work in that order. While for married women, an additional year of education increases the probability of engaging in trade and unskilled work in that order.

Correspondingly, the effect of education on office work is statistically significant for unmarried women, but not for married women. This may be attributable to the observation that married women’s chances of getting employment in the formal sector are slimmer relative to their unmarried counterparts. It thus implies that educated married women may be inclined to  choose petty trading and unskilled work because these activities allow them greater flexibility in working while engaging in home production and management of their homes.

Conclusion and Policy Implications

Education is important in making occupational choices among women. We found that although married women are more likely to engage in market work compared to unmarried ones, the type of employment does matter. Unlike unmarried women, education gives a narrower range of occupational choices to married women. Interestingly, while education increases the probability of choosing only trade and unskilled work among married women, it increases the probability of choosing a wider range of activities: office work, trade, services, and unskilled work among unmarried women. These findings suggest that the inclination of educated married women to choose fewer market activities is to offer them greater flexibility in managing home and market work – an observation that is attributable more to need than opportunity.

Therefore, beside policy that encourage female education, public policy interventions should encourage work-family balance. These interventions include universal paid maternity leave, popularization of public daycare centers, and encouragement of girls to remain in school longer and motivate them in entrepreneurship, vocational training, engineering, science, and technology. Also, the school curricula should be more in line with labour market trends.