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  • Writer's pictureSharon Chau

The Neglected Dimension of Development: Gender


  • Gender is often neglected when discussing economic development, but female education brings immense benefits to the healthy development of a country.

  • Female education increases labour participation by equipping women with qualifications and skills, increases productivity and aids family planning which ameliorates the problem of overpopulation.

  • In light of the many factors that make girls less likely to attend school, the government should implement policies like paying parents to send their daughters to school.


Context of Gender and Development

Gender is something many dismiss as irrelevant when discussing macro-subjects like economic development. Education is almost universally agreed as crucial for a country’s economy - but an emphasis on female education has been woefully ignored by developing countries. Traditionally, boys have had a much higher rate of school attendance compared to girls, even though research has consistently shown that returns to female education are a few times higher. Educating girls brings a plethora of benefits to a country’s long-term development, and to the wellbeing of individuals and families.

In this essay, three things will be analysed - benefits of female education to a country’s development, reasons for the current under-attendance of girls and suggestions on how countries can encourage wider female participation in schooling as a developmental strategy.

Female Education Increases Labour Participation

Female education is able to vastly increase women’s participation in the labour market. In terms of skill-based assets, education provides females with the qualifications for many jobs, while raising their potential earning power and providing a strong incentive to seek employment. Basic literacy and numeracy increases the productivity of workers in low-skill occupations and may be a prerequisite to getting a job. The productivity of workers in professional positions is also increased through the use of analytical reasoning and technical knowledge learnt in school. Earning a degree also raises females’ potential earning power, allowing women to move up the ranks into senior positions which increases their income. As a result, education encourages women to join the job market by increasing job opportunities and providing more attractive potential earnings. Female education also changes societal norms and thus encourages women to join the labour market. Educated women are less likely believe they are destined to be housewives and are instead ambitious about future careers. Hence, female education vastly increases women’s participation in the labour market through equipping them with crucial skills and qualifications for employment, and through changing stereotypes about women’s roles. This means a huge sector of the population which was previously untapped now becomes part of the labour force, creating economic growth.

Female Education Increases Productivity

Other than increased labour participation, female education creates higher productivity in a multitude of other ways. First, financial benefits are enjoyed by more educated females. Literate women are more likely to apply for credit individually instead of relying on their husbands, gaining a degree of financial independence. They can use the credit to invest in themselves, or equipment such as washing machines which free up their time for other productive activities. Numeracy also allows women to keep accounts and manage the family’s finances, decreasing the potential of them being overcharged for inputs or underpaid for outputs. Second, exposure and openness to new ideas are enjoyed more by educated females. Educated women are more responsive to innovative approaches to farming such as new crop varieties or crop rotations. These novel methods can greatly increase agricultural productivity, and might otherwise be squandered if the women do not understand or are conservative about new technology. Educated women are more likely to attend training courses for farming, child-rearing or self-improvement and to retain newly acquired information, which allows them to become more productive in whatever occupation they choose to be. This is especially important as men traditionally work full-time in the fields or the city and might be unable to spare time for mature educational courses. At the same time, literacy allows women to read printed material and escape the limits of radio broadcasts, which mostly hold male-centric views. They are consequently exposed to a vast range of much more personalised information. As a result, this shows the abundant returns to productivity of educating females in terms of financial benefits and acquisition of new information, which in turn stimulates productivity and economic growth.

Female Education Aids Family Planning

The third way female education contributes to economic growth is through better family planning. Female education slows down population growth as educated women are more likely to delay marriages and use birth control. Infant mortality rates are also lowered - each one-year increment in mothers' education corresponds to a 7-9% decline in under-5 mortality in many developing countries. Counterintuitively, lower mortality rates decrease population growth due to a declined need for many children as a risk insurer. Slower population growth in a stagnant economy leads to more resources per capita, since the total economic pie is divided among fewer mouths. Consequently, female education leads to economic growth through smaller family sizes. At the same time, female education increases the health and productivity of families. Educated mothers are more likely to use health services for their children, improving their physical wellbeing and likelihood of attending school. This increases children’s long-term productivity, as they reap the benefits of education and are less likely to develop diseases that follow them throughout their lifetime. Better knowledge of hygiene is also prevalent among educated mothers, which is vital. The risks arising from poor hygiene, lack of sanitation and parasitic diseases are large, and can decrease the whole family’s productivity through endangering everyone’s health. The benefits are plain even with a few years of primary schooling, which has been shown to inculcate codes of behaviour, such as the washing of hands, which persist into adulthood. In addition, educating girls breaks the cycle of female deprivation and instead creates a virtuous cycle - educated mothers expect their daughters to go to school, and inspire praise and confidence. These are all reasons to believe that women’s education contributes greatly to the wellbeing and productivity of individual family units, and by extension the whole economy.

Why Don't Girls Attend School?

If female education creates so many benefits, why do so few girls around the world go to school compared to boys? This is due to a few factors - the opportunity cost of losing a pair of hands in the home, social and cultural norms surrounding female schooling, and low economic returns to investing into girls’ education. Not sending daughters to school is often a rational choice when they will be taken care of by their husbands, when nontuition costs such as transportation and learning materials are high, and when girls can stay home and fetch water or help their mothers take care of younger siblings. Girls might also not be sent to school because parents are afraid of physical or moral harm done to them, as demonstrated in longitudinal studies in Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia.

Government Policies

In light of these barriers, governments have to develop explicit policies to increase girls’ education. This should include providing financial incentives for families, decreasing physical barriers for schooling, and changing norms surrounding female education. For example, governments could pay parents for consistent attendance or achievement of their children, build more schools in densely populated areas or provide transportation subsidies, and have advertising campaigns on the benefits of sending daughters to school. This changes the financial calculus of parents, making them more likely to view female education as a rational and sound choice. The success of similar education programs has been demonstrated in many countries. For example, Mexico's PROGRESA program, which provides stipends for school attendance, is credited with increasing girls' primary completion by 15%; a scholarship program for girls in Bangladesh has almost doubled female enrollment; and Indonesia has reached 90% enrollment for girls through building new schools that meet the specific educational needs of girls. These case studies show how active efforts by governments can remedy the inequality within education currently borne by young girls. In addition, governments ought to scrutinise education materials and prevent them from entrenching insidious stereotypes, which are prevalent in many textbooks. Instead, education can be a powerful way to cultivate a virtuous cycle through increased illustrations of female scientists and doctors or expanded STEM programs for girls. If all these policies are adopted by governments, we can expect female education attendance to skyrocket and, slowly but surely, for the benefits analysed above to materialise.


For centuries, girls and women have been disenfranchised and conveniently overlooked in the process of economic development. What we have failed to realise is the overwhelming benefits of specifically female education. Educating girls increases the participation and productive capacity of women in the labour market - it opens previously-closed doors by granting degrees which are prerequisites to certain jobs, and by equipping women with basic literacy and numeracy. Female education further increases productivity in all positions women decide to take up, whether that be formal jobs, farmers or housewives. In addition, schooling for girls improves the health and productivity of individual families by cultivating hygienic habits and encouraging family planning. Policy-makers and politicians around the world have the obligation to enthusiastically promote female education, freeing generations of girls from being illiterate housewives who are currently condemned to the household. Let us imagine a world where women become financially independent, where they enjoy autonomy in making choices about their families, and where they encourage their own daughters to go to school to enjoy the opportunities education have opened up for them. Let us imagine a world where gender is upheld as the key factor in economic development - where we realise women hold up half the sky.


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