Women closing the gap

The education gap between men and women is narrowing, the Economist reports this week. New evidence can be found in the 2007 World Development Indicators from the World Bank. In 2004 girls outnumber boys at secondary schools in almost half the countries in the world (84 of 171).

And the number of schools where the gap between the number of boys and girls has almost disappeared has risen by a fifth since 1991.

At university levels girls outnumber boys in 83 of 141 countries. This includes countries like Mongolia and Guyana where university education for anyone is not common.

The sexual literacy gap is narrowing as a result. In 2006 literacy rates among young women (15 to 25) were higher than among young men in 54 of the 123 countries. Girls in richer countries have long outperformed boys but now some poor countries are starting to reverse the male advantage.

Meanwhile in the workforce 58% of women have paid employment compared to 84% of men. But while that gap is substantial, it is closing. Out of 200 countries, 121 countries saw female workforce participation rise. And some of the sharpest rises came in the Middle East and North Africa.

A changing male/female balance at school will unleash wider changes on families and society. The more girls at school, the higher the educational standard, which benefits boys. Also better educated women help countries move into higher-tech businesses – as is happening in India.

Female education is also associated with smaller family sizes. And working women may have higher incomes than their husbands which will change family roles.


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