Journal Issue

Women and Development

International Monetary Fund. External Relations Dept.
Published Date:
September 1988
  • ShareShare
Show Summary Details

Education and Fertility

The significance of the role of women in development has gained considerable attention in the last few years. Among other institutions, the World Bank has increasingly begun to emphasize the need to involve women in the design and implementation of development programs so as to make them more active and effective participants in economic activities. Development economists have long known that population and growth are intertwined issues. In the developing world, the trend toward rising populations poses a particular problem for future growth. Women, representing slightly more than half the total population of the developing countries, are in a strong position to affect both population trends and economic growth. Greater recognition of these factors has brought about some change in the economic role and status of women. However, much more needs to be done.

The charts present two basic indicators of the economic condition of women over the past twenty years. Education and fertility are two important and interacting factors affecting development. Experience in the developed countries has shown that socioeconomic change over the long run lowers fertility and slows down population growth. Greater education and more social awareness of the need to plan families helps reduce fertility. At the same time, employment opportunities for women increase with education, and so does the cost of caring for children. This usually lowers fertility, the preference shifting towards a few healthy children rather than a large number of them. With education, women become more aware of the need for better pre-natal and infant nutrition, thus reducing infant mortality which in turn tends to reduce fertility over the long run. Education also makes women conscious of better health practices, especially nutrition and contraception.

Over 1965-85, the data show an increase in literacy of women accompanied by a decrease in fertility rates in almost all regions of the world. Among the regions of Middle East and North Africa, Asia (excluding China and India), and Sub-Saharan Africa, the number of females per 100 males in primary school increased by around 33 percent over 1965-85. During 1970-85, this ratio for secondary schools increased by 45 percent, most of which is concentrated in Asia, having the largest increase of about 83 percent. Total fertility rates fell by about 37 percent for all developing regions except for Sub-Saharan Africa where the fertility rate increased by 1.5 percent. The decline in fertility was most pronounced in China, falling by around 64 percent over 1965-85.

Middle East and North Africa


Industrial countries

Asia, excluding China and India

Latin America and the Caribbean


Sub-Saharan Africa

Source: The World Bank.1 Females per hundred males. Education indicators show the extent to which females are enrolled at both primary and secondary levels, compared with males. All things being equal, and opportunities being the same, the ratios for females should be close to 100.2 For some countries with universal secondary education, the gross enrollment ratios may exceed 100 percent because some pupils are younger or older than the country’s standard secondary school age. The number of females per 100 males will rise at secondary school level if male attendance declines more rapidly in the final grades because of males’ greater job opportunities, conscription into the army, or migration in search of work. Also nursing, home economic, and secretarial courses are included in secondary schools.3 Tolal fertility rate represents the number of children that would be born to a woman if she were to live to the end of her childbearing years and bear children at each age in accordance with prevailing age-specific fertility rates

Other Resources Citing This Publication