Data of Women: education and literacy around the world

  • 28 March 2022
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This content, written by Haarthi Sadasivam, was initially posted in Looker Blog on Mar 8, 2018. The content is subject to limited support.

In the spirit of International Women’s Day, we wanted to learn more about how women around the world are being prepared for future opportunities.

To learn more about this, we turned to the World Bank’s dataset and pulled some metrics around School Enrollment and Literacy by gender, income, and location around the world.

An education is key to the pursuit of upwards mobility and personal agency. To measure this, we analyzed what percent of the female population are enrolled in school, by country and region.

According to the , female literacy can predict the quality or preparedness of the future female labor force and can also be used as a proxy for the effectiveness of the education system. When looking at the effectiveness of an education system, the quality of education needs to be taken into account; simply having access to an education is not enough to ensure future success.

For both literacy and school enrollment, we obtained metrics from countries around the world over a period of 5 years from 2012-2016. Because we were not able to obtain complete data from all countries, not all countries in the world are represented in all parts of the dataset. We will make note of the missing pieces of data as we move through the findings.

In general, the dataset proved many common assumptions, but in unpacking these numbers, we found that there was more depth to be discovered in the data.

Access to education by gender

When looking at youth education, the data shows that developing nations - such as Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia - have the highest percentage of youths not enrolled in school.

When looking at youth education by gender, the data shows that in the regions with a higher youth enrollment overall (on the left of the visualization above), there is a slightly greater percentage of the female population than the male population in school. However in the regions with the largest portion of the population of children out of school (to the right of the above visualization), the percentage of girls in school is much lower than the percentage of boys in school. In other words, as the overall level of youth population in school decreases, the level of girls enrolled in school decreases disproportionately more than the levels of boys enrolled in school.

Another way to look at educational access is by using the (GPI) - a metric used by UNESCO to measure the access to education to girls vs. boys in a given country. The Gender Parity Index measures the amount of girls in school compared to boys in school, with 1 being parity with equal access to education, below 1 being more skewed towards boys and above 1 being skewed towards girls.

Below, is the GPI of Gross Primary and Secondary School enrollment across the globe.

Not all countries report this data, but of those that do, the same regional problems that are highlighted above become extremely clear - the gap between boys and girls is highest in North Africa and parts of the Middle East and South Asia.

But there is good news here too - look at all that green! We took a look at this data broken-down by country to get a better idea of what this Gender Parity Index looks like across all countries:

Above, we look at a country by country comparison, which shows things are actually looking pretty equal. There are inequalities on both sides of the spectrum, but overall, it’s great to see that the availability of education is close to equal in so many places around the world.

Literacy rate by gender

UNESCO argues that in an individual's ability to take part in the labor market and succeed in society. With this in mind, we wanted to get a better understanding of how women fare compared to men when it comes to literacy

Please note: This dataset did not include literacy rates for North America (USA, Canada and Bermuda) so the region was not included in the following analysis.

Looking at the above visualization, we see a clear literacy drop in certain regions. We also see that as overall literacy rates drop in a region, the literacy rates or women drop much more than male literacy.

But let’s dig into this a bit more....

Another way we can slice this data is by income levels across all countries. When broken down by income tier, we can see that, overall, the literacy disparity increases substantially as income decreases.

But this pattern is not the case for all regions...

Another indicator in this data set is the the (GNI) per capita for each country and averaged across regions. This figure shows the wealth per person a country or region has, but is not representative of what the average person in that country or region would make.

One might assume that as GNI per capita increases, the rate of literacy would also increase, and while that is mostly true, there is a notable flip in the data.

As you can see in the visualization above, the Middle East and North Africa region is essentially tied for the second highest overall GNI per capita, but its literacy rates for women trail far behind that of other regions. And on the other hand, the Latin American and Caribbean region is far behind the first three in GNI per capita, but has high and relatively equal literacy rates.

This flip of expectations could be the sign of a priority difference between the Middle East and North Africa and Latin American and Caribbean regions. This bodes well for the future of women in the Latin American and Caribbean region, as it shows a much closer to equal investment in both male and female education.


So how are women around the world being prepared for the future?

In developing regions and the lowest income groups of all countries, women and girls are still facing a large gap in both educational availability and quality, with both school enrollment and literacy rates falling behind their male counterparts. But this issue has not gone unnoticed. Organizations like UNESCO are around the world in order to bring the opportunity gap to a close. This data proves the need for that investment and it is encouraging to see it prioritized globally.

Overall, we were actually pleasantly surprised by much of this data. The actual percentage of Children Out of School was much lower than we had originally expected for both boys and girls. The Gender Parity Index findings and evidence of cultural shifts like those in the Latin America and Caribbean region were also promising. A global prioritization of quality education is clear in this data, and while there is still much work to be done, the numbers show how much has been invested in this cause to date.

There are many other factors about female life that this data does not cover, and we are eager to dive into more of that data in the coming weeks. Stay tuned for our next post about women in the United States based on data from the US Census.

Thanks for reading!

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