Findings reports on ongoing operational, economic and sector work carried out by the World Bank and its member governments in the Africa Region. It is published periodically by the Africa Technical Department on behalf of the Region.

Measuring the Gap: Female Education in Sub-Saharan Africa

The beneficial effects of female education have been well documented, and current levels of female participation in SSA suggest that much can be done to extend these benefits in the region. There is ample research that demonstrates that education increases the productivity and earnings of both men and women: econometric studies estimate an increase in income of as much as 10 to 20 percent with each additional year of schooling. Moreover, while the impact of additional schooling on earnings is similar for males and females, educating females generates more substantial social benefits. Educated women have healthier, fewer, and more educated children. As schooling tends to improve a mother's knowledge and use of health practices, each additional year of schooling is estimated to decrease the mortality rate of children under the age of 5 by up to 10 percent. In addition, educated women have fewer children; it is estimated that one extra year of schooling reduces fertility by approximately 10 percent. Because educated women have fewer children, fewer will die in childbirth. Finally, women with schooling are more likely to send their own children, females in particular, to school.

Female education and national development have been proven to be closely linked. While the education of both males and females is crucial to development, the failure to ensure equality in education between the sexes can reduce the potential benefits that educating men has on social welfare. Further, a nation with a large gender gap in enrollments will have lower economic productivity than another country with similar capital and labor resources but a smaller gender gap in schooling.

Given the significance of female education for development, there is an enormous need for data across countries that can be used to inform policy discussions within and among individual countries. Nowhere, perhaps, is this need greater than in Sub-Saharan Africa where female participation in education is inordinately low, and where the disparities between females and males vary greatly among countries.

The study, Statistical Indicators of Female Participation in Education in Sub-Saharan Africa, responds in two ways to this need for statistics on female education. First, it defines a set of statistical indicators that can be used to describe the level of female participation and the disparities between males and females in education systems. The report introduces the concept of the Gender Ratio (GR) as a generic tool for comparing male and female participation in education across all indicators used to assess the performance of education systems. Second, the report presents data from existing sources for the forty-six countries in Sub-Saharan Africa.

The report defines eighteen indicators that provide information on the performance of education systems, formulating them to take advantage of country-level statistics from existing sources. These indicators are grouped into three categories of educational performance: access, attainment, and accomplishment. Access refers to the decision to enter females in school (five indicators); attainment to the length of time females remain in school and to the level of education to which they progress (nine indicators); and accomplishment to their success once they leave school (four indicators). Achievement, measuring academic performance once females are enrolled in school, is certainly another category deserving inclusion. However, because cross-nationally comparable data on academic achievement are limited, this important area was excluded.

The Gender Ratio for each of these eighteen indicators is calculated by dividing the females' rate by the males' rate. A Gender Ratio of 1.00 for a given country therefore means that females are doing just as well as males on that indicator; a female to male ratio of 0.50 suggests that females are doing half as well as males; and a Gender Ratio of 0.32 implies that females are at a rate that is 32 percent of the males' rate. By organizing the Gender Ratios to follow a student's flow through the entire education system (i.e., from admission to primary through employment), the Gender Ratios can pinpoint the level and/or area in which females are at a disadvantage, particularly when compared with the profile of regional medians.

The regional profile of female participation in education is presented above. The female rate and the Gender Ratio are listed for each of the eighteen indicators. In Sub-Saharan Africa, a gender gap exists in education that increases in severity with each level of education. Females are somewhat disadvantaged in both primary admission (GR=0.88) and gross enrollment (GR=0.77), and repeat at approximately the same rate as males (GR=1.01). Once females are enrolled in primary school, an approximately equal percentage persists to Grade 4 compared to males (GR=0.99). Although a smaller proportion of females enrolled in Grade 1 actually completes primary school (GR=0.81), those enrolled in the final grade of primary continue on to secondary at close to the same rate as males (GR=0.92). Severe disparities exist in females' access to secondary school, however, as is indicated by the gross secondary enrollment Gender Ratio of 0.50, despite a primary completion Gender Ratio of 0.81. In secondary school, females repeat at a rate slightly higher than males (GR=1.10), and the secondary completion Gender Ratio of 0.64 indicates that substantially fewer females than males complete secondary school. At the tertiary level, females are under-represented, with a gross tertiary enrollment Gender Ratio of 0.22, and proportionately fewer females than males are enrolled in a sciences curriculum. Females make up 34 percent, 22 percent, and 12 percent of the primary, secondary, and tertiary level teaching staff, respectively. Disparities are evident on the output side as well. Women have, on average, slightly more than three-quarters of a year of schooling, a rate that is 40 percent of the male rate, and only 30 percent of adult women are literate, just over half the male rate (GR=0.57). Finally, 32 percent of women participate in the labor force, a rate that is 63 percent of the male rate.

The data and Gender Ratios may be most useful when analyzing gender disparities in education within a country; a country profile for the Central African Republic is presented above. The data indicates that females enter and remain enrolled in primary school at rates that are approximately two-thirds the males' rates, indicating difficulties with females' access to primary education. Inefficiency is high at this level, with high repetition rates for both males and females (GR=0.97), suggesting a system-wide problem rather than a gender disparity. Females persist to Grade 4 at a rate slightly below the males' rate (GR=0.93), but just 30 percent of females complete primary school, slightly more than half the males' rate (GR=0.56), indicating that females are dropping out of school at a higher rate than males. Gender differences are more substantial at the secondary level, with a female gross secondary enrollment ratio that is 42 percent of the male rate and a females' completion rate that is 52 percent of the males' rate, indicating difficulties for females in both access and attainment at the secondary level. Further, the tertiary enrollment Gender Ratio of 0.13 highlights the gender disparities at this level, particularly when compared with the regional median of 0.22. Women have, on average, just one-half of a year of schooling, a figure that is 31 percent of the male rate, and the female literacy rate is approximately half the male rate (GR=0.48).

The Gender Ratios for all indicators can be an excellent source for informing country-level policy discussions about female participation in education, especially if they are formulated into a country profile. This said, the data's incompleteness and inaccuracies need to be recognized. Also, the reporting period for the data varies among the indicators (but not within them), and no time series data has been introduced, so that it is impossible to assess whether conditions are changing in individual countries or in the region. Despite these problems with the data, we believe that this first comprehensive statistical report on the state of female participation in education in Sub-Saharan Africa will prove useful to researchers, planners and policy makers.

Teresa Hartnett and Ward Heneveld. 1993. Statistical Indicators of Female Participation in Education in Sub-Saharan Africa. AFTHR Technical Note No. 7. Africa Technical Department. Washington, D.C.: World Bank.