We have learned much over the past several decades about the connection between gender inequality and economic growth, particularly when we talk about inequalities in education and employment. Inequalities in education, for instance, artificially reduce the pool of talent which societies can draw from; by excluding qualified girls from the educational stream and promoting less qualified boys, the average amount of human capital in a country will be reduced and this will have an adverse impact on economic performance. We also know that the promotion of female education leads to lower births per women, not only because educated women will have greater knowledge about family planning but also because education creates greater opportunities for women that may be more attractive than childbearing.
In the face of significant social and cultural barriers, it is tempting to be cynical about a role for education in promoting women managers in developing economies. Consider the number of factors that could come in the way: nationally, cultural and social attitudes may discourage the career advancement of women, and at the firm-level, male-dominated informal networks and cultures can act as barriers. Furthermore, even if all these obstacles were somehow removed, the lack of good quality education itself, and skills mismatches can pose problems.
But, in spite of all this, education remains a crucial founding block for career success. After all, one needs an education in the first place to get to a point where these other factors can undercut the likelihood of career progression. Therefore, without access to education, one may stumble even before the climb up the career ladder begins.
Today, November 25, is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. According to the United Nations, more than a third of women and girls worldwide experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetime. In some countries the proportion is at two thirds. More than 130 million girls and women have undergone female genital mutilation. Child marriage is even more pervasive, with 700 million women living today who married as children. In Africa and South Asia, close to half of girls still marry before the age of 18. These practices are declining, but only slowly.
The widespread negative effects of violence against women have been documented, including in the recent World Bank report Voice and Agency: Empowering Women and Girls for Shared Prosperity. Complications related to pregnancy and childbirth lead 70,000 adolescent girls to die each year according to UNFPA’s State of the World Population report.
We often think that all women are in some way subjected to gender-based discrimination, and indeed, there is wealth of evidence to support this belief. The same can be said about ethnic minorities and other social groups—indigenous peoples, refugees, sexual minorities, the poor, immigrants, and people living with HIV/AIDS—who may face barriers in their quest for a better life.
In reality, though, we all have multiple identities, and our abilities, opportunities and achievements are all socially mediated by the way these multiple identities interact with each other. For instance, the feminist literature highlights that day-to-day experiences of ethnic minority women can be drastically different from ethnic majority women, although both groups fare worse than men in most outcomes. While context plays a large role in how ethnicity exacerbates gender-based divisions, such interactions often get manifested in similar ways, through systematic, cumulative achievement gaps across social groups.
Today, November 10, is World Science Day, and the focus of the Day this year is quality science education. Learning in schools in many developing countries is low. But the same can be said for many schools in Washington, DC. On PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment), the international benchmark to measure mathematics skills and science literacy, among 34 OECD countries the US ranked 27th in mathematics and 20th in science, with no statistically significant improvement over time. Within the US, again in terms of performance in mathematics, the capital city of Washington DC ranks last behind all states in the national NAEP assessment. Improving such low levels of performance requires a concerted effort, but tutoring for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) subjects can help. Tutoring can be part of the solution to improve learning.
The International Day of the Girl Child earlier this month was an opportunity to remind ourselves that girls are among the primary victims of violence, and that they continue to, in many countries, have limited education and employment opportunities.
At a time when students, parents and governments are looking more closely at the value of schooling, it is important to keep in mind that in addition to being a basic human service, education produces some strong economic benefits. One of the most commonly cited benefits are the earnings associated with schooling. These have been called the returns to investment in schooling.
While estimates of the economic rate of return to schooling have been provided by economists for more than 60 years, it is only recently that we have had such estimates for the vast majority of nations in the world. In a recent research, “Comparable Estimates of Returns to Schooling around the World,” we report the latest estimates of the private – what the individual student earns – returns to schooling using comparable data from 140 economies around the world and more than 800 household surveys.
Development is not easy; making it sustainable, even more difficult. Take for example road traffic rules. We can build better roads and install traffic lights, but cannot guarantee adherence to traffic rules. Even with laws in place, people may be more willing to pay fines than stop at a red light or wear seat belts. How do you make people value their own lives or their betterment? To succeed, we have to motivate people rather than just educate them.