Education, Social Mobility and Religious Movements: The Islamic Revival in Egypt


  • This article combines material from two earlier papers, ‘A Theory of the Islamic Revival’ by Carvalho and ‘Decline in Social Mobility: Unfulfilled Aspirations Among Egypt's Educated Youth’ by Binzel. It supersedes them. The authors are indebted to the editor and referees, as well as Ragui Assaad, Ken Binmore, Lisa Blaydes, Samuel Bowles, Jon Eguia, Dietmar Fehr, Christina Gathmann, David Gill, Jonas Hedlund, Marwan Khawaja, Stefan Klonner, Dorothea Kübler, Mike McBride, Jörg Oechssler, Giovanni Prarolo, Michael Sacks, Thomas Siedler, Douglas Staiger, Christoph Vanberg, Christopher Wallace, Peyton Young and participants in the 2014 ASREC Conference, 2013 NBER Conference on the Economics of Culture and Institutions, and seminar participants at Oxford, Dartmouth, Chapman, Heidelberg, the Santa Fe Institute, the Institute for Humane Studies and Goethe University Frankfurt. Carvalho gratefully acknowledges financial support from the Commonwealth Bank Foundation in the form of a John Monash scholarship and the Institute for Humane Studies. All errors are ours.


Muslim societies have been reshaped in recent decades by an Islamic revival. We document a contemporaneous decline in social mobility among educated youth in Egypt, the epicentre of the movement in the Arab world. We then develop a model to show how an unexpected decline in social mobility combined with inequality can produce a religious revival led by the educated middle class. The principal idea is that religion helps individuals to cope with unfulfilled aspirations by adjusting their expectations-based reference point. By raising aspirations, economic development may make societies more prone to religious revivals.