Education and Fertility
The significance of the role of women in development has gained considerable attention in the last few years. Among other institutions, the World Bank has increasingly begun to emphasize the need to involve women in the design and implementation of development programs so as to make them more active and effective participants in economic activities. Development economists have long known that population and growth are intertwined issues. In the developing world, the trend toward rising populations poses a particular problem for future growth. Women, representing slightly more than half the total population of the developing countries, are in a strong position to affect both population trends and economic growth. Greater recognition of these factors has brought about some change in the economic role and status of women. However, much more needs to be done.
The charts present two basic indicators of the economic condition of women over the past twenty years. Education and fertility are two important and interacting factors affecting development. Experience in the developed countries has shown that socioeconomic change over the long run lowers fertility and slows down population growth. Greater education and more social awareness of the need to plan families helps reduce fertility. At the same time, employment opportunities for women increase with education, and so does the cost of caring for children. This usually lowers fertility, the preference shifting towards a few healthy children rather than a large number of them. With education, women become more aware of the need for better pre-natal and infant nutrition, thus reducing infant mortality which in turn tends to reduce fertility over the long run. Education also makes women conscious of better health practices, especially nutrition and contraception.
Over 1965-85, the data show an increase in literacy of women accompanied by a decrease in fertility rates in almost all regions of the world. Among the regions of Middle East and North Africa, Asia (excluding China and India), and Sub-Saharan Africa, the number of females per 100 males in primary school increased by around 33 percent over 1965-85. During 1970-85, this ratio for secondary schools increased by 45 percent, most of which is concentrated in Asia, having the largest increase of about 83 percent. Total fertility rates fell by about 37 percent for all developing regions except for Sub-Saharan Africa where the fertility rate increased by 1.5 percent. The decline in fertility was most pronounced in China, falling by around 64 percent over 1965-85.