GIRLS’ EDUCATION BENEFITS THEIR YOUNGER SIBLINGS: Evidence from rural Pakistan

01 Dec 2018

The educational outcomes of younger brothers in rural Pakistan are better when they have a more educated childcare provider, tutor and role model in their oldest sister. That is the central finding of a new study by Javaeria Qureshi, published in the December 2018 issue of The Economic Journal.

The research finds that the lower distance that an older sister has to travel to the local girls’ school, the more years of schooling she experiences. This in turn raises her younger brothers’ educational outcomes, including their years of schooling, literacy and numeracy. An additional year of schooling for the oldest sister increases the younger brother’s schooling by 0.2 years.

The author analyses data from households in rural Pakistan over the period 2003-06, where three quarters of mothers and two out of every five fathers have no schooling. In such households, the oldest sister is one of the first family members to acquire any schooling, making her education an important input into younger children’s learning. So even if some parents place less value on girls’ education, they still stand to benefit from educating their daughters because it has immediate benefits for their sons.

These findings have important implications for programmes targeting girls' education, including World Bank-sponsored gender-targeted conditional cash transfer programmes in Pakistan and Bangladesh. Cost-benefit analyses of these investments that consider only the effects on the girls but ignore the potential impacts on younger siblings will systematically underestimate the total benefits.

Several studies have shown that educating girls leads to better-educated children, but it can also raise the educational outcomes of their younger brothers. Girls often play a significant role in raising their younger siblings, particularly in developing countries where they share considerable childcare responsibilities. The new research finds that increasing the oldest sister’s years of schooling improves the learning and schooling of her younger brothers.

The study analyses data from households in rural Pakistan surveyed from 2003 to 2006, where 75% of mothers and 40% of fathers have no schooling. This makes the oldest sister one of the first family members to acquire any schooling in many households.

The surveys show that only one in five children gets help with studies from a parent. When parents are not the ones helping, the oldest sister fulfils that role most of the time, making her education an important input into younger children’s learning.

To assess the effect of increasing oldest sisters’ schooling on younger brothers, the study compares households located far from the girls’ school to those located relatively close by. Schools in this conservative society are gender segregated, and the farther away the girls’ school, the less schooling girls complete due to the risk of sexual harassment and purdah norms.

The author finds that reducing distance to the girls’ school increases the oldest sister’s schooling, and this in turn raises her younger brothers’ educational outcomes, including their years of schooling, literacy and numeracy. An additional year of schooling for the oldest sister increases the younger brother’s schooling by 0.2 years.

In contrast, increasing the oldest sister’s schooling has no impact on older brothers’ educational outcomes, indicating that the younger brothers are not benefitting merely from being around more educated family members or because their parents are increasing investments in all of their children’s education. Instead, the results suggest that younger brothers’ education improves because they have a more educated childcare provider, tutor and role model in their oldest sister.

The favourable impacts of oldest sisters’ education on younger brothers’ educational outcomes are similar in size to those from mothers’ education. But the benefits from oldest sisters’ schooling for younger brothers accrue contemporaneously to the current generation while those from maternal education are realised by the future generation.

These findings have important implications for programmes targeting girls' education, including World Bank-sponsored gender-targeted conditional cash transfer programmes in Pakistan and Bangladesh. Cost-benefit analyses of these programmes – which consider only the effects on the girls but ignore the potential impacts on younger siblings – systematically underestimate the total benefits of these investments.

Lastly, it is important to note that the study finds evidence for additional returns to girls’ education in a setting where girls’ education is typically less valued than boys’ education. Pakistan has the world’s second highest number of children out of school and 60% of these children are girls. Even if some parents continue to accord low importance to girls’ education, they stand to benefit from educating their daughters because it has immediate benefits for their sons as well.

Additional Returns to Investing in Girls' Education: Impact on Younger Sibling Human Capital’ by Javaeria Qureshi

Javaeria Qureshi

University of Illinois at Chicago | javaeria@uic.edu