Intersectionality and identity: an exploration of Arab-American women


In the past, research on social stratification focused primarily on the independent contributions of race, socioeconomic status (SES), and gender to status attainment. However, contemporary research in the field recognizes that race, SES, and gender interact to create complicated systems of inequality that go beyond conventional models of stratification. Increasingly, studies add categories such as religion and nativity to the mix and uncover even more complex patterns of inequality, ones that rarely fit conventional explanations for stratification outcomes, particularly for women (Fitzgerald and Glass 2008, 2012; Glass and Jacobs 2005; Lehrer 1999a; Sherkat and Darnell 1999). Consider these examples: Education is highly correlated with U.S. women’s employment and earnings (England, Garcia-Beaulieu, and Ross 2004), but is much more so for native-born white and black women than for immigrant women (Read and Cohen 2007). Religion is negatively associated with women’s human capital acquisition among conservative Christians (Lehrer 1999b), whereas the opposite is true among U.S. Jews (Gold 2002), and among Arab Americans, women evidence a pattern of high educational attainment, but very low labor force participation (Read and Oselin 2008). These patterns can create theoretical and empirical conundrums for researchers focused on the relationship between any single identity (e.g., race, class, gender) and social inequality. In this chapter, we examine where the presence of multiple group identities results in status attainment outcomes that do not fit neatly within conventional stratification models. We use Arab American women as a case study. This group provides a useful case because it lies at the intersection of religion and ethnicity, where the cultural dynamics shaping women’s achievements are especially acute (Read 2004). Arab American women also constitute a population that exhibits a paradoxical pattern of high educational attainment but low employment (U.S. Bureau of the Census 2000). They provide a rich repository of information to examine how multiple identity categories intersect to shape outcomes.

Religion and Inequality in America: Research and Theory on Religion’s Role in Stratification