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Educating Girls and Ending Child marriage: A Priority for Africa

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This study is part of a series of notes at the World Bank on the potential cost of not educating girls globally. Despite substantial progress over the last two decades, girls still have on average lower levels of educational attainment than boys in many countries, especially at the secondary and tertiary levels. As documented by the World Development Report 2018, when it comes to actual learning, while girls tend to outperform boys in reading, they score lower in math and science tests in many countries. Together with occupational segregation and social norms that discourage women to take full advantage of labor market opportunities, this leads to large gaps in earnings between men and women. In addition, low educational attainment for girls has potential negative impacts on a wide range of other development outcomes not only for the girls themselves, but also for their children, families, communities, and societies. The objective of the series of notes is to document these potential impacts and their economic costs.

Low educational attainment affects girls’ life trajectories in many ways. Girls dropping out of school early are more likely to marry or have children early, before they may be physically and emotionally ready to become wives and mothers. This may affect their own health. It may also affect that of their children. For example, children of mothers younger than 18 face higher risks of dying by age five and being malnourished. They may also do poorly in school. Other risks for girls and women associated with a lack of education include intimate partner violence and a lack of decision-making ability in the household.

Through lower expected earnings in adulthood and higher fertility over their lifetime, a lack of education for girls leads to higher rates of poverty for households. This is due to both losses in incomes and higher basic needs from larger household sizes. Data on subjective perceptions also suggest that higher educational attainment is associated with perceptions of higher well-being among women.

Low educational attainment for girls may also weaken solidarity in communities and reduce women’s participation in society. Lack of education is associated with a lower proclivity to altruistic behaviors, and it curtails women’s voice and agency in the household, at work and in institutions.
Fundamentally, a lack of education disempowers women and girls in ways that deprive them of their basic rights.

At the level of countries, a lack of education for girls can lead to substantial losses in national wealth. Human capital wealth is the largest component of the changing wealth of nations, ahead of natural capital (such as oil, minerals, and land) and produced capital (such as factories or infrastructure).

By reducing earnings, low educational attainment for girls leads to losses in human capital wealth and thereby in the assets base that enables countries to generate future income. Low educational attainment for girls is also associated with higher population growth given its potential impact on fertility rates. This may prevent some countries from ushering the transition that could generate the demographic dividend.

Finally, low educational attainment for girls may lead to less inclusive policy-making and a lower emphasis on public investments in the social sectors. Overall, the message is clear: educating girls is not only the right thing to do. It also makes economic and strategic sense for countries to fulfill their development potential.