Low Economic Participation of Jordanian Women: Quantifying the Foregone Opportunity

Published on 10/23/2013.

The sexist behavior of Jordan’s taxi drivers is extremely familiar to many guys who have lived in Jordan. Their peculiar behavior is famous among young Jordanians despite every other cab driver being an astrophysicist that was fired from NASA for being Muslim, or a petrol engineer that gave up the big bucks in Saudi Arabia to drive people around in Jordan’s terrible traffic and scorching heat.

Allow me to explain for those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about. The other day when I was waiting for a taxi from work in order to go home, I spent 40 minutes waiting for a cab driver to pick me up. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I stood in the middle of nowhere; I was waiting on my typical corner, in a busy street. I admit I had competition from a bunch of women waiting on the same street who had priority. But what annoyed me the most, is one cab driver who began to turn his car in my direction to pick me up, spots a girl on the other side of the street, changes the direction of his cab and goes to pick her up! Now I admit, I’m a bit jealous, maybe if I lost a few kilos I could compete with that girl. But the phenomenon is pretty familiar with Jordanian guys reading this.

Now I could go on and rant about how rude that behavior was, but while I spent the next 30 minutes patiently waiting for either a decent cab driver or for Jordanian women to disappear from the area, I started thinking about the economic decision making process that that cab driver went through to make his decision. Let’s call him Joe.

Before we start thinking about Joe’s specific behavior, we need to consider the business model for a typical cab. It’s an extremely basic setup of revenue and cost. When occupied, Joe charges a flat rate per unit of distance to the passenger. This rate is fixed by a governmental institution (the name eludes me at the moment). Joe earns this rate; let’s say it’s a hypothetical 10 cents per meter. That is Joe’s revenue. Assuming regular traffic conditions and keeping things simple, what is Joe’s cost? It’s simply the gasoline cost for driving. Let’s say the cost of gasoline per meter is 7 cents (again, this is hypothetical and I’m making these numbers up for the sake of simplicity). Therefore Joe earns 3 cents in profit per meter when he has a passenger in his vehicle (10 cents revenue per meter less 7 cents cost of gasoline per meter). When Joe is driving without a passenger, he’s losing 7 cents per meter (the gasoline cost and no revenue because the cab is empty).

So Joe, should not give a damn who his passenger is, right? As long as his cab is occupied, he’s making money. He shouldn't discriminate against the passenger; the money is the same regardless of who the passenger is. Now in reality, some cab drivers discriminate based on the destination, which makes sense. Because let’s say I want to go to an extremely far rural area. If Joe takes me there, he’ll make a lot of money taking me there (3 cents multiplied by the distance), but he’ll incur a greater loss (this will be larger than the profit since it will be 7 cents multiplied by the distance, so effectively he'll lose 4 cents per meter by taking me there) by driving back to his original location with no passenger once he drops me off. So it’s natural to see some taxi drivers preferring to take passengers that are heading to crowded areas, where the probability of finding a passenger is higher in those areas. Compared to rural areas, where there is a smaller probability that he will find a passenger (and consequently a larger probability that he’ll lose money if he goes to that destination).

But what happened to me, didn't relate to the destination whatsoever. When Joe was driving towards me, he had no clue what my destination is. In the same manner, when he spotted the girl, he didn't know where her destination is. Since the choice is completely uncertain, and up for speculation, the destination argument could not be a factor of his decision. So we can safely rule that out.

So now it boils to the raw decision, why did Joe chose the girl over me? Believe it or not, it also boils down to cost vs. benefit analysis. Now I assumed earlier that the cost associated with any passenger is simply the gasoline cost. But to understand where I’m going, consider the following. Joe can choose between passenger ‘A’ and passenger ‘B’. Both ‘A’ and ‘B’ are heading to the same destination, they are standing next to each other and they do not want to go together. You have the choice to pick only one of them. If we leave it that, the choice is basically random for Joe. But assume that’ ‘A smells. And I mean really smells. ‘A’ smells so bad that when Joe drove near him, he almost threw up and told ‘B’ to get inside the cab (who happened to smell OK).

This stupid example illustrates that Joe considered ‘A’ to incur an extra cost by picking him up that is not included in his gasoline cost. That is, if Joe picked up ‘A’, then he will have to bear the horrible smell the entire way, which is effectively a cost for Joe. Since ‘B’ doesn't smell so bad, Joe is effectively gaining more by picking ‘B’ up instead of ‘A’ since he’ll save on the “smell” expense. So the decision to go for ‘B’ than ‘A’ makes perfect economic sense!

Now let’s consider the same decision for Joe, but instead it’s between the girl I mentioned earlier – let’s call her Lily – and myself. As I said, destination doesn't matter. So the only thing he can judge us by is the way we look. Now since I left work, I can safely say I looked like a normal human being. But he still went and picked up Lily! The reason is, what Joe subconsciously decided, is that he’ll gain more by driving Lily to her destination than driving me around. Why? Joe is attracted to girls. He’ll “gain” by looking at Lily and talking to her, than by talking to me. So this explains the phenomenon, there is an added benefit from Joe’s perspective to picking up Lily, all he’s getting effectively is eye candy. He gains by gazing at her! This makes his sexist behavior economically feasible and understandable. It came down to a cost vs. benefit analysis. Except that Joe’s added benefit resulted from him gaining extra pleasure by drooling over the sight of a female passenger for the entirety of the trip rather than speaking about economics with me (Joe's insane right?).