UNFPAState of World Population 2002
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HOME: STATE OF WORLD POPULATION 2002: Poverty and Education
State of World Population
Characterizing Poverty
Macro-economics, Poverty, Population and Development
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Poverty and Education
Population, Poverty and Global Development Goals: the Way Ahead
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Poverty and Education

Wealth Differentials in Access and Attainment
The Gender Gap
Returns on Education Investments for the Poor
Meeting the Goals of the ICPD

Returns on Education Investments for the Poor

IMPACT OF PARENTS' EDUCATION ON CHILDREN'S EDUCATION Many studies have shown that the education of parents is linked to their children's educational attainment, and that the mother's education is usually more influential than the father's (33). An educated mother's greater influence in household negotiations may allow her to secure more resources for her children. Educated mothers are more likely to be in the labour force, allowing them to pay some of the costs of schooling, and may be more aware of returns to schooling. And educated mothers, averaging fewer children, can concentrate more attention on each child.

Besides having fewer children, mothers with schooling are less likely to have mistimed or unwanted births. This has implications for schooling, because poor parents often must choose which of their children to educate. Having many siblings can reduce a child's educational chances if costs are involved (34), though in sub-Saharan Africa extended family networks reduce this effect by spreading the cost among their members (35). In a few countries, unintended children have significantly lower educational attainment than intended children (36).


Seventy per cent of the indigenous women in Bolivia's Chuquisaca and Potosi departments are illiterate. Women in the poor, rural region also suffer the country's highest maternal mortality rates.

An innovative UNFPA-supported project addresses both issues, by providing simultaneous literacy training in the indigenous Quechua language and Spanish, and information on reproductive health, health insurance and safe motherhood.

Between 1999 and 2002, over 100,000 women and men learned to read and write. A technical team trained more than 100 trainers, who in turn trained 3,500 literacy teachers. Each taught classes of 25 people, three times a week for eight months. Men and women met separately, to ensure that all could speak freely.

"I have learned how to keep myself and my house clean, how to plan with my husband how many children we are going to have, to have a good pregnancy check-up and to go to the health centre for checkups," said one participant. "I wish we had been taught this before so we wouldn't have had so many children."

The project, implemented by the Vice Ministry of Alternative Education and funded by the nited Nations Foundation, was promoted through local events, radio, and community groups. Activities were coordinated with local NGOs. In 2000, it was awarded UNESCO's Malcolm Adiseshiah Literacy Prize.

Participants have learned about the availability of lifesaving health services. In one project area, the number of attended deliveries doubled in two years as a result.

"In the past, we didn't know about these things," said Modesta Hinojosa. "We walked around with our big bellies herding the sheep, planting with our husbands, carrying the babies. There weren't any health centres, the women died and nobody said anything. Thank God we are now better informed and we will look after our health better."

IMPACT ON REPRODUCTIVE AND CHILD HEALTH A great deal of evidence documents the benefits of schooling, particularly women's schooling, for health and nutrition, child survival, and lower fertility. For example, immunization rates among children of educated mothers are consistently higher than those of uneducated mothers, even after controlling for other associated factors (37). Gains in women's education account for an estimated 43 per cent of the reduction in child malnutrition between 1970 and 1995, more than any other factor (38). And the nutritional status of children is, in turn, linked to their cognitive achievement and early school enrolment (39).

The causal pathways that link schooling to reproductive and child health outcomes have not been firmly established, but there is little doubt that education encourages women and enables them to understand and use information, to incorporate norms, and to make choices that lead to better outcomes for themselves and their children (40).

Education is also strongly linked to better reproductive health for women. Numerous studies have shown that educated women are more likely to have adequate prenatal care, to have skilled assistance at the delivery of their babies, and to use contraception to avoid unwanted and mistimed births. Educated women also tend to initiate sexual activity later, to marry later, begin childbearing later, and to have fewer children than uneducated women (41). The relationship between education and such life cycle events is reciprocal; girls who marry and have children early are unlikely to be in school while those in school are less likely to start a family.

Men's education tends to have less influence than women's education on reproductive health and family formation patterns in many countries, but its effects are generally positive. They reinforce the effects of women's education rather than substitute for them (42).

ECONOMIC RETURNS Investments in the education and health of the poor yield returns in productivity, income and economic growth. Anti-poverty programmes in different arenas interact. Better education leads to better health and higher incomes among workers; improving workers' health increases their earning potential.

Strong and consistent evidence shows that a country's level of education has a positive effect on economic growth. And inequality in the distribution of education holds back growth, whatever the absolute level of education (43). Educational inequality also holds down per capita income in many countries (44). The economic policy environment affects this relationship: investments in education have a greater impact on growth in economies that provide greater prospects for workers to use their education and skills.

Households with low education are highly vulnerable to ill health and disability, price and credit swings, and natural and environmental disasters. Education helps to buffer such shocks by enabling more secure employment, higher incomes, and better access to economic assets and credit. The educated are generally more healthy than the uneducated, even those with similar incomes (45).

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