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Democracy and Gender Inequality in Education: A Cross-National Examination

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  26 April 2004

DAVID S. BROWN
Affiliation:
Department of Political Science, University of Colorado, Boulder

Abstract

This Research Note examines the role democracy plays in explaining the disparity in educational attainment between men and women in a cross-national context. Policies designed to improve education figure prominently in recent attempts by governments, international institutions and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to stimulate economic development. The recent emphasis on education is grounded in a well-established literature in economics on the rate of return on investment in education and in a fairly new stream of research in economics – endogenous growth theory – that suggests knowledge is the generative force of economic growth. Although a majority of the work in both literatures focuses on aggregate levels of educational attainment (usually enrolment ratios or literacy rates), a growing body of evidence identifies women’s educational attainment relative to men’s as a crucial variable in explaining the wide variation in economic development throughout the world. In addition to its direct impact on economic growth, women’s education may indirectly affect economic performance in a number of important ways: through its impact on health, fertility and infant mortality. Previous empirical work shows that women’s education has a strong negative effect on fertility and infant mortality. Moreover, family health practices improve in direct proportion to female education. According to the World Bank, countries that achieved universal primary education for boys in 1965 but lagged far behind in educating girls had about twice the infant mortality and fertility rates in 1985 of countries with smaller gender gaps.

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© 2004 Cambridge University Press

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