Why Women Are Receiving Less Education Than Men In Developing Countries – Sociology Essay

Why Women Are Receiving Less Education Than Men In Developing Countries – Sociology Essay
As a Chinese saying goes, “Women support half of the sky.” Female, as one of the only two sexes in nature plays a crucial role in balancing the structure of family and society as well as keeping human beings in

path of its evolution. However, women suffer much from discrimination in almost all countries and regions throughout the world, especially in developing countries where traditional thoughts put women in a much inferior position to men, and it is one of the most important reasons to many social problems such as domestic violence, sexual harassment, wage inequality and gender gap in education. Among them, the gender gap in education has a profound meaning to economics growth of a developing country, and it is the problem that two of the eight Millennium Development Goals proposed by the United Nation (“Goal 2: Achieve universal primary education” and “Goal 3: Promote gender equality and empower women”) are trying to tackle.

In the following essay, I would like to firstly introduce the current situation of girl education and the degree of disparity between the two sexes before looking for plausible reasons to the existence for such discrimination. After briefly explaining the importance of girl education I will then focus on a special case study on China in order to give an instinct understanding of the phenomenon.

In general, the educational gender gap is the greatest in the poorest countries. The following table provides data on two of the key aspects to which the educational gender gap is determined.

The Education Gender Gap: Female rates and percentage of male rates

Country Adult Literacy Primary Enrollment Secondary Enrollment Tertiary Enrollment
China 91 – – 84
Chad 31 68 31 17
Indonesia 90 98 99 80
Kenya 90 100 98 53
Papua New Guinea 80 90 79 54
Tajikistan 100 95 84 34
Turkey 85 94 76
Yemen 41 71 46 28
Developing countries 84 – – –
Least developed countries 70 – – –
Source: United Nations Development Program, Human Development Report 2005, index of gender inequality in education (table 27)
Note: all figures are expressed in relation to the male average which is indexed to equal 100.
Figure 1

The female literacy rate was recorded as 12% lower than male literacy in the 2002 (recorded in the 2004 report) while it was enlarged to 16% in 2003 (reported in 2005). The data for the least developed countries were fixed at the level of 70%. Although we can say nothing about the overall trend of the recent development of the gender gap in education, it is sure that the task to totally eliminate the gap is tough and requires significant amount of investment and effort.

The developing countries in the table are selected from the Human development Index to represent different groups of economies in different stages of development. Obviously, countries where female literacy rate is much lower than male rate are the countries with lower levels in all categories of comparison. Besides, the ratio drops as the level of education increases in almost all countries in the table. Tajikistan, notably, has the most significant drop (-50%) in the ratio after secondary school education.

The discrimination on women is firstly influenced by the traditional ideology. Our society has developed in such a way that it is men that carry their surname to their offspring; it is men that make major decisions in a family; it is men that perform important religious rites.

Surname as one of the most important personal identity does not remain the same for women even in the most developed countries in the world. Although this might not correlate with the trend of the female-male enrolment ratio, it certainly implies the unconscious norm that men are the dominant power over women. In addition, in China, for instance, only male’s name is allowed to note in the family pedigree. A daughter or a wife is not qualified to be recorded in such a “holy document” in whatever cases.

In terms of the one who makes major family decisions, women are found to be less involved in family decision making at all levels, and this is especially the case in developing countries. Many women in developing countries still hold the view that women are born to serve and support their husband at home and provide better environment for him to develop his career as well as raising the children. This will undoubtedly lead to unfair decisions made by the husband to benefit men more than women.

During religious ceremonies, men always play the main role. As there has not been a female Pope, and the Buddha is also, again, although no religion openly discriminates women, female is unconsciously regarded as a less strong power.

The second reason why girls are given less opportunities to receive formal education is women’s inferior economic status in society. Given an income constraint a family has to balance the amount invests to the children to receive education and generate extra income in the future and the amount left for the family members to survive for now. It is difficult when there is more than one child that is above the schooling age and the family income does not allow it to afford every child to school especially when income is extremely low, in which case, most families simply does not offer any education opportunities for the children. However, if there is some money left and can be invested in education for children, many families will choose to invest in boys first.

Furthermore, Oakley (1972) pointed out that “on the whole, males command the majority of the jobs carrying high prestige, high skill and high income, and this is true throughout the industrial world.” She then listed the following figures: “Of all professional scientific and technical qualifications gained by full-time students in Great Britain in 1969, men took 77% and women 7%. …Of all managers of large establishments tabulated for Britain in 1966, 87% were men and 13% women: of all foremen and supervisors 82% were men and 18% women.”

Income disparity exists because of the different participation rate of males and females in different levels of jobs, but it requires more thorough analysis to find the reasons behind the difference between a girl and a boy’s financial value to a family. In a developing country where industrialization is still in its early stage and agriculture sector is clearly the predominant sector, with technology lagged behind advanced economies, when the women in the family are pregnant, everyone wants a boy because apparently men are physically stronger than women. This is especially common in rural areas because a young boy can often do more job than a girl in the cultivation of crops. In addition, girls usually leave the family to the husband’s family which in some rural areas of some developing countries could be in a separate village after marriage. They will then be exclusively responsible for the husband, their future children and possibly the in-law’s family members. In other words, a girl will stop contribute financially (including the value generated by any mean of operation, agriculture or private business) to her family after she is married while having a boy will often guarantee a nearly life-long contribution. Even if we do not consider the problem of marriage, women still remains in disadvantageous position for the fact that when a woman does not work outside the home, much of her work performed, including housework and any contribution towards family business or agriculture is often unremunerated, while men, if working for the family usually as the owner of the family business collect all the income. Todaro (2006) hence concluded that “where women’s share of income within the home is relatively high, there is less discrimination against girls, and women are better able to meet their own needs”, including health care and education.

(2003) Index
(1990 = 100) Female economic activity
as % of male rate (aged 15 and above)
Developing countries 102 67
OECD 107 72
High Income 107 74
Middle Income 102 73
Low Income 103 61
World 103 69
Source: United Nations Development Program, Human Development Report 2005, index of gender inequality in economic activity (table 28)
Female economic participation is relatively lower in less developed and lower income countries. In general, the less developed a country, the stronger the tendency that its female citizens follow a traditional career path.
Figure 2

Last but not least, the environment in which children live unconsciously influences their mind on sexual division, which makes them temporize their behaviour and opinions for survival. The treatment towards boys and girls are obviously different. Boys in their early age are taught to be brave and strong. They are recommended ship models, water pistols, football as toys by the parents while girls are offered dolls. I even remember when I was in kindergarten the worst word I could imagine to describe a boy was “sissy”. Therefore, receiving information about the society, children will be accustomed to the environment and take it for granted when they grow up. This thus worsens the situation if discrimination on women is observed because the unconscious norm that women should be discriminated will pass on generations by generation and it can be in theory very difficult to erase the belief once it has been inherited for a very long period of time.

As a result of such discrimination, the female-male ratio in developing countries with such traditional ideology will turn out to be very weird (the “missing women systery”). If everything else equal due to the higher mortality rate for male babies, although the natural birth rate female to male is around 100 to 105, the actual ratio after the first year of life will approximately equal to one. As life expectancy for women are longer, given the same health service, there will be about 105 to 106 women for every 100 men in an industrialized country. In Susan Hill Gross’s book “Wasted Resources, Diminished Lives”, she points out that in countries where sons are valued more than daughters, the female ratio is much lower, and daughters are subjected either to infanticide or are neglected to death by depriving them of food and medical care. She quoted a study in Bombay which found that “out of 8,000 abortions performed after amniocentesis, 7,999 were of female fetuses”. As another example, the table below illustrates the change in the ratio of female number and male number in India in the past century. As the health condition and technology available to different groups in the same country is similar, the most important factor to such trend has to be people’s attitude to women in general.

Trend of female/male ratio in India in 20th century
1901 1951 1991
97 94 93
Figures for every 100 male.
Figure 3

Promoting girl education will certainly benefit society as well as economic development. It will lead to higher earning and labour force participation rate which is an important indicator of the level a country’s aggregate production; it will lead to later marriage and lower fertility rate because women with higher education are more likely to follow advanced reliable method of family planning; it will decrease the infant mortality rate since women will be better able to control their own nutrition level and obtain better health care, which will surly provide women a better health condition for pregnancy; it will create intergenerational multiplier effects on the quality of a country’s human resources because couples with formal education obtain extra knowledge from communication, which contributes to a life long learning, and a better educated mother understands the importance of formal education and will thus try her best to send her children to school and receive adequate training, which will create a circulation of quality education for many generations to come; it will equip women with important knowledge to protect themselves from HIV/AIDS infection and hence prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS.

In order to understand the current gender gap in education and its influence on economic development better, a special case study on China perhaps can offer a more direct approach and unveil some more specified features. The reason why China is chosen is not only because the country is the one that the writer is most familiar with, but also because it represents a developing country on the one hand with outstanding economic performance in the past two decades and on the other hand still heavily influenced by its unique tradition which can be traced back thousands of years.

Just after the foundation of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, the female enrollment ratio was only about 15%, and it increased to 93.6% in 1986 when “the Law of Compulsory Education of People’s Republic of China” was promulgated. By 2004, although the female-male enrollment rate for primary education had been narrowed to approximately 0.04%, the situation for secondary and post-secondary education still remained problematic. Take Pingchang County in Sichuan Province as an example, the enrollment rate for first year secondary school is 94% overall and 82% for girls. The drop-out rate for the second year is 23% overall and 29% for girls, and the figures increased to 27% and 32.1% respectively in the third year. The Chinese government finds it very difficult to promote girl education after a certain level is reached because the tradition which typically discriminates girls in some rural areas are too strong that it requires the local government to invest significantly more in education than the estimated social return.

In addition, as secondary education in China is free according to “the Law of Compulsory Education”, the drop-out rate basically represents the group of people who are reluctant to receive formal education. This is very special because the reasons behind the phenomenon are sometimes not purely financial matters. Many girls are required by the traditional family to get married early (some in rural areas are even reserved for marriage in their childhood.) so that they can make early contribution to the husband’s family. Others leave school because the Chinese education system which is often regarded as “exam-oriented” deviates far from the actual need of local economic development. However, more girls are found to stop schooling to work. Due to the inequality in economic development and rapid urbanization in China, in order to catch opportunities to earn some money (as even the jobs of the lowest level in urban areas often bring higher income compared with rural areas) many people, including girls who are discriminated in their home migrate out of the country side into cities.

Moreover, even if the opinion that formal education for girls is beneficial is held by the public, it is still extremely difficult to eliminate the minority group. Putting into such a big country with huge population, even a very small fraction of minority seems to be significant.

In conclusion, the current observed gender gap in education is generally caused by a combined effect of traditional ideology that men are the dominant power of the world and women’s inferior economic status. The inequality is consolidated generations by generations by children’s natural imitative learning habit. On the one hand, economic development is stimulated by promoting gender equality in education since population growth will be controlled and average national human capital will be increased improve. On the other hand, extra social welfare is created owing to women’s better overall understanding in maternal healthcare and child education.

It is not only government’s responsibility to take measure on gender equality on education, but society should also start campaigns to promote the importance of girls education to every family.

UNICEF (The United Nations Children’s Fund )(2004) suggested seven critical steps, as follow, to achieve the goal.’
Include girls’ education as an essential component of development efforts.
Create a national ethos for girls’ education.
Allow no school fees of any kind.
Think outside and inside the ‘education box’.
Establish schools as centres of community development.
Integrate strategies.
Increase international funding for education.’


Meier G M. and Rauch J E.(editors), Leading issues in economic development 8th ed.. New York ; Oxford : Oxford University Press, 2005. xvii, 650 p. : ill. ; 26 cm

Todaro, M P.: Economic development /Michael P. Todaro, Stephen C. Smith. 9th ed.. Harlow : Pearson Addison Wesley, 2006. xxvii, 851 p. : maps ; 24 cm.

Oakley, Ann.: Sex, gender and society /Ann Oakley. London : Temple Smith, in association wth New Society, 1972. 220 p. ( Towards a new society).

Bradley, H.: Men’s work, women’s work :a sociological history of the sexual division of labour in employment /Harriet Bradley. Minneapolis : University of Minnesota Press, c1989. 263 p. ( Feminist perspectives).

Extracts from Susan Hill Gross, Wasted Resources, Diminished Lives

Mesl M., Rural Women’s participation in Decision-making in Slovenia, ninth session of the working party on women and the family in rural development, European Commission on Agriculture (ECA)

United Nation Development Programme, Human Development Report 2004

United Nation Development Programme, Human Development Report 2005

United Nation Development Programme – Annual Report 2005

Girls’ Education: A World Bank Priority

Primary Education – UNESCO (the United Nations
Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization)

National Bureau of Statistics of China

Focusing on the situation of Girl Education in China – People’s Daily

Ministry of Education of the People’s Republic of China

China Family Planning Association