This study notes that investments in health and education – human capital endowments – shape the ability of men and women to reach their full potential. It examines gender gaps in education and health, and progress in addressing them. It finds that great progress had been made in cases where removing a single barrier – in markets, households or institutions – is required. However, progress has been slower either where multiple barriers need to be lifted at the same time or where a single point of entry produces bottlenecks.
The right mix of investments in health and education allows people to live longer, healthier and more productive lives. Systematic differences in investments between males and females adversely affect individual outcomes in childhood and adulthood and those of the next generation. Left uncorrected, these differences translate into large costs for societies.
In recent years, gender gaps in participation in education have shrunk dramatically. However, there are still disparities in disadvantaged populations and both boys and girls learn very little in school in many lower-income countries. Furthermore, in all countries, men and women continue to study different disciplines.
Mortality risks for girls and women (relative to boys and men) are higher in many low- and middle-income countries compared with their counterparts in high-income countries. This ‘excess female mortality’, although still widespread, has declined in many parts of world, apart from in Sub-Saharan Africa where it has increased.
Among the factors responsible for the current state of the gender gaps in education and health are the following:
- The progress in reducing gender differences in education results from removal of a single barrier to schooling: in households (more stable incomes), markets (increasing returns to education), or formal institutions (lower costs of schooling).
- Continued female disadvantage in severely disadvantaged populations stems from an absence of economic drivers combined with other forms of social exclusion.
- Girls’ and boys’ educational paths diverge because of multiple barriers that work simultaneously to influence choices: stereotypes within the education system, gender bias norms in the household and employers’ attitudes to family formation.
- Male-biased sex ratios at birth result from a combination of overt discrimination expressed in preference for sons, increased use of prenatal sex selection and declining fertility.
- After birth, poor public health and service delivery lead to excess female mortality in early childhood and the reproductive ages. In parts of Sub-Saharan Africa, HIV/AIDS risks have compounded the problem in the latter period.
In both education and health, much remains to be done for severely disadvantaged populations: