ADDITIONAL RETURNS TO INVESTING IN GIRLS’ EDUCATION
Malala Yousafzai’s powerful speech at the United Nations last month has mobilized the cause of girls’ education on the world stage. This call for action comes at a time when a momentous push is needed to make progress towards the Millennium Development Goal on education, which pledges to have every child in school by 2015. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged Pakistan to accelerate its efforts on this front last week. With the world’s second highest number of children out of school, Pakistan has a lot of ground to cover. One in four of Pakistan’s primary school-age children are out of school today. Two-thirds of the out of school children are girls.
This dismal state of girls’ education is cause for concern for many reasons but I am going to highlight a factor that has not been discussed before. When we fail to educate the millions of girls who are kept out of school in Pakistan, we are also losing out on and sacrificing the education of millions of boys. My recent study shows that there are unanticipated, positive externalities from girls’ education on the learning of younger siblings. Using data from the Learning and Educational Achievement in Punjab Schools (LEAPS) project, I find that the oldest sister’s schooling has significant beneficial impacts on the schooling, enrollment, literacy and numeracy of younger brothers in Pakistan.
Many studies advocate increasing girls’ education because of the evidence for substantial returns to maternal education. Children of more educated mothers are healthier, have better nutrition, score higher on test scores and complete more years of schooling. In developing countries such as Pakistan, eldest sisters can be considered half-mothers in that they share considerable responsibility for childcare of younger children. As somebody who looks after and interacts with her younger siblings extensively, the eldest sister has a potentially significant impact on younger siblings’ learning. In Pakistan, eldest sisters are also the most important source of help with schoolwork for young children. Only one in five children receives help with studies from a parent, according to the LEAPS survey. When a parent is not the one helping with studies, the eldest sister fulfills that role 70% of the time. The eldest sister is more than twice as likely to help than the eldest brother, even though he is more educated. In summary, the schooling of the eldest sister can be expected to enhance the learning of her younger siblings because she is a tutor, a childcare provider as well as a role model for her younger siblings.
The LEAPS survey was fielded in 112 rural villages in Punjab from 2003 to 2006 and collected detailed longitudinal information on learning and education from over 1,800 households and 820 schools. It provides a uniquely rich dataset with which to investigate the relationship between eldest sisters’ schooling and younger brother outcomes. Households located far from girls’ schools were compared to those located relatively close by because distance to girls’ school is a strong determinant of girls’ schooling. The study finds that reducing the distance to the closest girls’ school sharply increases the schooling of the eldest sister, thus improving her younger brothers’ learning and schooling outcomes. An additional year of schooling for the eldest sister increases the younger brother’s schooling by 0.42 years and his probability of being enrolled by 9.6%. It also increases the probability of a primary school-age younger brother being literate and numerate by 7–19%.
In households where the mother has never been to school, the eldest sister’s education makes a significantly greater contribution to the learning of younger siblings compared to households where the mothers have some education. This is in line with what we would expect, given that the role that eldest sisters play is a close substitute to that of mothers. This also suggests that there are likely diminishing returns to schooling of family members within a household so that children gain substantially when the first family member acquires education but relatively less from increases in education in a family that is already well educated. This pattern of effects is also consistent with the sizeable spillover impacts associated with the eldest sister’s schooling because the data consists of rural households that are poorly educated. While education indicators for these households in rural Punjab are still better than those in other provinces, only one in four mothers in these households has completed any level of schooling, and both parents have zero years of schooling in 35% of the households.
The favourable impacts of eldest sister’s schooling on younger brother education are spillovers from girls’ education that accrue contemporaneously to the current generation as opposed to returns from maternal education, which are realized by the future generation. This has important implications for government policies targeting girls’ education, including gender-targeted conditional cash transfer programmes such as the female stipend programmes in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Cost-benefit analyses of these programmes – which consider only the effects on girls and their children but ignore the potential impacts on younger siblings – systematically underestimate the total benefits of these investments. Another crucial take away from this study is that, even if parts of our society continue to accord low importance to girls’ education, we must start educating our girls, which will have immediate benefits for our boys’ education as well.
Dr Javaeria Qureshi is an Assistant Professor of Economics at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Her research interests lie in education, labour and development economics. She specialises in applied econometrics and impact evaluation, which she teaches at the PhD and Master’s levels. She can be contacted at email@example.com.
Disclaimer: The views expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the Institute of Development and Economic Alternatives