NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


August 17, 2004

Backing women's rights in developing countries isn't just good ethics; it's also sound economics, says Isobel Coleman, a Senior Fellow on the U.S. Foreign Policy at the Council on Foreign Relations.

According to Coleman:

  • Girls' education lowers birth rates, which improves per capita incomes; in India, educating girls was more successful than family planning initiatives in lowering birth rates.
  • Female education boosts agricultural productivity; as men seek jobs in urban areas, women are left to manage the land by themselves and need training on agriculture techniques.
  • Increases in household income benefit the family more if the mother, not the father, makes the decisions on spending; more cash tends to go to school, nutrition and health, while men spend more income on alcohol and cigarettes.
  • Increases in female income raise a child's survival rate 20 times more than increases in male income.

Incidentally, countries with the slowest economic growth tend to have the highest illiteracy rates among females: southern Asia (55 percent), sub-Saharan Africa (45 percent) and the Arab world (55 percent), says Coleman.

Source: Isobel Coleman, "The Payoff from Women's Rights," Foreign Affairs, May/June 2004; United Nations, "Millennium Development Goals," Lawrence H. Summers.

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