May 25, 2007

Follow up to DP post on education

Yesterday I posted on Drishtipat about Bangladesh's success in achieving gender parity in secondary education. In response, shahpar had this excellent observation to offer:

"i’d like to see how that correlates to birth rates and female infanticide. i wonder if increased education among women is linked to them having a smaller families, and to less deaths of girl babies. or if their education is only a small first step in having the right to decide what happens to their own bodies"

I don't think female infanticide has been a problem in Bangladesh post-independence since the female mortality rate has fallen faster than the male mortality rate during that time.

The correlation between lower birth rates and increased education for women has been observed time and time again in various places and cultures. Social scientists assert that educated women might like to pursue numerous goals other than childbearing, and thus prefer smaller families. Added to this is the greater voice, dignity and awareness of rights within the marriage that educated women enjoy, which enables them to assert their preference - what shahpar rightly calls deciding "what happens to their bodies". Thus education leads to smaller families.

There is however a parallel dynamic in work, just in the opposite direction. This is where smaller families lead to education - the opposite direction of causality. As families get smaller, parents find that they have more resources to spend on smaller number of children. Thus they send more of their children to school for longer years.

I'm afraid to say that I believe it is the second dynamic we have observed over the '90s in Bangladesh. The birth rate fell first, in the 80s, leading to smaller families. So parents figured, "Well why not send the girls to school as well?" Thus the parity in secondary education, attained around 2000-2001. This is also borne out by the fact that the female:male ratio in tertiary education has been the slowest to rise. Parents simply do not have enough resources yet.

As much as I'd like to believe that educated mothers are currently making choices within their families and having greater voice; as much as I'd like to believe that young women are no longer seen as the "dispensable" ones within the family when it comes to education, the analysis just does not support that.

I give it a generation. Ours.

(Please re-direct all comments on the DP post above. Thanks!)