by Rose Hackman
A book review in The Economist – the future of mobility – has had me wondering about migration’s effect on girls’ education.
Refreshingly, the article shines a flattering light on migration, dispelling rumors that unskilled workers from the developing world steal jobs in rich countries. Unskilled workers actually fill labor gaps and help create jobs, while skilled workers often come home eventually and inspire others to seek more advanced education. They also send money home. In fact, remittances account for a hefty percentage of many countries’ economies.
Which raises my question: If they are sending money home, do their daughters have a better chance to receive a higher level of education?
Research offers mixed answers. It is unclear if migration benefits children left behind generally, but the consensus is pretty clear that daughters’ education benefits, at least up until the age of 16.
In Pakistan, studies have found a 65% increase in enrollment for girls in rural areas, compared to a 15% increase for boys. Although the total percentage of boys enrolled is still larger than the percentage of girls, the increase represents a significant narrowing of the gender gap in access to education.
A paper from the University of Colorado shows that in Mexico, girls whose fathers have migrated to the US increase their schooling by three quarters of a year, while girls whose fathers emigrate within the country see no increase.
Why is this? Does more money being sent home break down economic barriers? Does exposure to societies in which women often have higher education than men account for the increase? Do female-headed households, in the absence of fathers, prioritize girls’ advancement?
It is a prickly subject. At least that final hypothesis is disproved by an astonished economist looking at rural Pakistan, but the situation may very well be different elsewhere. Indeed, the economist looking at Mexico seemed to suggest mothers were looking out for daughters there.
Maybe I should conclude by briefly expanding on the Western-centric second hypothesis: being exposed to a culture where women are often more qualified than their male counterparts. Feasible? Perhaps.
Census figures released this April reveal that more college degrees in the US are awarded to women than to men—something that apparently has been true since 1996—but have just overtaken men in terms of attaining advanced degrees of the Master’s level or higher. (I will leave pay gap for another day.)
Would seeing a successful woman walking down the street on her way to a meeting inspire you for your kid? Would it lead you to think about the world of possibilities that could come from investing in girls not just boys?