Manufacturing Growth Is Helping Empower Bangledeshi Women

The immense growth of the garment manufacturing industry in Bangledesh has helped empower the nation’s women, including a closing of the education gap.

According to a report by the Cato Institute:

Garment-sector jobs reward cognitive skills and thus increase the returns to education; this underscores the role of demand for schooling in determining educational investments. The literature on education in developing countries is heavily tilted in favor of supply-side approaches such as building schools, providing schooling inputs, improving school quality, or supplying conditional cash transfers for school attendance. …

Our results suggest that the rise of the garment industry can help explain the declining fertility, increasing age at marriage, and rapid increase in girls’ educational attainment in Bangladesh over the last 30 years, both in absolute terms and relative to boys. Approximately 80 percent of garment factory workers in Bangladesh are female (Khatun et al., 2007), and extrapolation from our data and national surveys suggest that around 15 percent of women nationwide between the ages of 16 and 30 work in the garment industry. The rapid increase in girls’ educational attainment has allowed the country to surpass the third Millennium Development Goal of gender equity in enrollments—a goal that many other countries in Western Asia and sub-Saharan Africa continue to struggle with. Our results provide one hitherto unexplored explanation for the accelerated gender equity in education in Bangladesh, thus generating policy implications for other countries interested in emulating Bangladesh’s success.

In theory, access to factory jobs can alter women’s school, work, marriage, and childbearing decisions through a few different mechanisms. As documented for maquiladora jobs in Mexico, older children may be induced to drop out of school to access the factory jobs (Atkin, 2012). Conversely, younger children (who are still too young for the factory jobs and do not face the temptation to drop out and begin earning immediately) may respond by investing in education if the availability of relatively well-paid manufacturing jobs increase the returns to education. Educational attainment might also increase through a wealth effect, if parents can now better afford to send their children to school. Both the increased enrollment channel and the direct factory employment effects would result in girls delaying marriage and childbirth.

Read the full report at the Cato Institute.