This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 12th (it came out in 2015), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Demographic Effects of Girls' Education in Developing Countries

The National Academies Press just released a synopsis of a workshop organized earlier this year by the Population Committee of the National Academy of Sciences on the topic of "Demographic Effects of Girls' Education in Developing Countries." The workshop was headed up by Ann Blanc of the Population Council, Jere Behrman of the University of Pennsylvania and Cynthia Lloyd who is now an independent consultant but was with the Population Council for many years. The main question raised was this: Why does education have an impact on fertility? In other words, what are the causal linkages?

In general, the participants in the workshop (who were all demographers doing work in the area of girl's education and fertility in developing countries--especially in Africa) concluded that an education can change the way a girl thinks about her place in the world and this can influence her decision-making about the timing of both marriage and childbearing. At the same time, having a baby early almost always truncates a girl's education and sets her back for the rest of her life. So, the causal links work in two directions.

I read through the synopsis of the workshop looking for things I didn't already know, and the major point that was brought out that needs some consideration is the idea that the quality of education may actually be lower now than it used to be in some of the countries that were being discussed. If that is true, then the impact of education on attitudes and behaviors of young women may be less than in the past. Still, however, I saw nothing to suggest I should modify the following summary that you will find on page 207-208 in Chapter 6 of the 12th edition of my text:
It is nearly axiomatic that better-educated women have lower fertility than less-educated women in any given society. It is the identification of this kind of fertility differential that helps to build our understanding of reproductive dynamics in human societies, because it causes us to ask what it is about education that makes reproduction so sensitive to it. In general terms, the answer is that education offers to people (men and women) a view of the world that expands their horizon beyond the boundaries of traditional society and causes them to reassess the value of children and reevaluate the role of women in society. Education also increases the opportunity for social mobility, which, in turn, sharpens the likelihood that people will be in the path of innovative behavior, such as fertility limitation, that they may try themselves. Indeed, the role of education is so important that demographers at the Vienna Institute of Demography have created a whole set of population projections incorporating trends in educational attainment as a predictor of fertility levels.

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