Skip to main content
economy lab

Afghan female students listen to Afghan President Hamid Karzai speak during a graduation ceremony of university students in Kabul on September 13, 2011. The status of women in Afghanistan has changed since the Taliban regime, when women were forced to wear the burqa in public.SHAH MARAI

Send a girl to school, boost the economy.

Countries that create better opportunities for women and girls tend to raise productivity, improve outcomes for children and advance development prospects for everyone, a sweeping World Bank study published this week has concluded.

It found that gross domestic product per capita and gender equality are positively correlated. As for productivity, output per worker would rise by up to 25 per cent in many countries if barriers were removed that prevent women from working in certain occupations or sectors.

"Gender equality is smart economics," the 452-page report says.

Boosting women's status and giving them the same access to education and economic opportunities increases productivity and the economic efficiency of a country, it says.

The good news is that girls and women today are more literate than ever, and one-third of developing countries have more girls in school than boys. Women now make up more than 40 per cent of the global labour force.

The pace of change over the past 25 years has been "astonishing," it says, and many developing countries have transformed at a much faster rate than advanced economies. What took the United States 40 years to achieve in increasing girls' school enrolment, for example, has taken Morocco just a decade.

The study includes plenty of real-world case studies. It highlights several countries, such as Bangladesh and Colombia, that have made huge strides in narrowing the gender gap with higher school enrolment, lower fertility rates and boosted labour market participation.

In Malawi, the study found, ensuring equal access and treatment for female farmers would increase maize yields by 11 to 16 per cent, and raise it by 17 per cent in Ghana.

Household agricultural production would grow by 6 per cent in Burkina Faso if women's property rights were improved and resources such as fertilizer reallocated from men to women.

Still, chilling statistics point to lingering inequality. Around the world, female mortality after birth and "missing" girls at birth account for an estimated 3.9 million women each year in low- and middle-income countries. (About two-fifths of those are never born because of a preference for sons, a sixth die in early childhood, and more than a third die in their reproductive years.)

Earnings gaps persist. In Germany, women earn just 62 cents for every dollar a man earns, while Sri Lankan women make 50 cents.

"Blocking women and girls from getting the skills and earnings to succeed in a globalized world is not only wrong, but also economically harmful," said Justin Yifu Lin, the World Bank's chief economist.

"Sharing the fruits of growth and globalization equally between men and women is essential to meeting key development goals."

Report an error

Editorial code of conduct