NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


June 9, 2006

Some of the best opportunities for women in developing nations will be in apparel and footwear export factories, say William C. Gruben, vice president and senior economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, and Darryl McLeod, associate professor of economics at Fordham University


Even though activists criticize working conditions in developing nations' factories and warn about U.S. jobs lost to imports, they concede that entry-level jobs provide much-needed employment for poor workers, particularly young women. In fact, studies show that these industries encourage rather than diminish women's education, say Gruben and McLeod.

According to researchers:

  • Clothing and shoe production requires more education than the average woman has attained in many developing countries.
  • The plants usually don't hire women without at least a junior high education; in Bangladesh and other major apparel-exporting nations, to qualify for these jobs, more women stay in school longer.
  • Female workers' commitment to seek more education delays childbearing and lowers the incidence of child labor.
  • In short, the maligned suppliers of Nike, Gap and Wal-Mart encourage governments to educate women, give women a reason to stay in school and pay them well by local standards.

These findings should help remove the stigma attached to factory jobs and encourage nations to include them as an integral part of development, say Gruben and McLeod.

Furthermore, they reinforce long-held arguments in economic development theory that the replacement of agricultural or rural informal-sector jobs with light-industry assembly firms is an important step in raising incomes, say Gruben and McLeod.

Source: William C. Gruben and Darryl McLeod, "Apparel Exports and Education: How Developing Nations Encourage Women's Schooling," Economic Letter (Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas), March 2006.

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