Faculty & Leadership Blog / Faculty in the News

The Economic Case for Malala’s Nobel

Megan Way, Kent Jones, and Lidija Polutnik, Professors at Babson College

Malala Yousafzai has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, based on her personal courage in response to her attempted assassination and her devotion to the cause of education for young girls and women around the world.

These factors alone make a good case for her to receive the prize. But there is a more far-reaching cause she represents: the reduction of poverty in much of the developing world.  Improved girls’ access to primary and secondary education would be a major catalyst for development.

The Nobel Peace Prize for Malala would not only promote women’s rights and human rights, but also economic equality and overall economic growth in the poorest parts of the world.

It is no secret that girls’ education is directly linked to economic growth; there is unusually strong agreement among economists on this point.  Educating girls creates direct economic benefits: they become more productive both in the workplace and at home, and increase their labor force participation.

Indirect benefits also lead to economic growth: decreased fertility, decreased maternal mortality, decreased infant and child mortality and improved education levels of boys and girls of the next generation.

Estimates of the impact on GDP of increasing educational parity between boys and girls vary, but overall the literature suggests that eliminating the gender gap in education would increase GDP growth by at least 0.3% per year, a very significant increase for a developing country.

But Malala Yousafzai’s campaign for increasing the access to education for Pakistani girls is motivated by more practical and personal benefits.  Each girl’s education has a big impact on her daily life.  It improves her health and her ability to participate in civic life. It allows her to delay childbearing, and thereby her ability to make a living or make a better marriage, and to care for her future children.

The value of these benefits is demonstrated by the sacrifices, hardship and threats so many girls have endured to exercise their basic human right to education.

When Malala began to speak out for girls’ education, she probably did not know that UNESCO the World Bank, and even the US Military were targeting education for girls as a strategic approach to reducing poverty and extremism. One of the United Nation’s eight Millenium Development Goals is the eradication of gender disparities in primary and secondary education by 2005, and in all education by 2015.

As of 2012, only two-thirds of countries showed gender parity in primary education, dropping to one-third in secondary education.  Of great concern is that those countries falling short of this goal are also those countries where the growth in school-age population is the highest.  Afghanistan, for example, will see more than a 30% increase in its “potential” students between 2010 and 2020 due to its high fertility rate. But its education system also shows low gender equality, with only 67 girls enrolled in primary school and 49 girls enrolled in secondary education for every 100 boys. (UNESCO, 2012).

In the meantime, the murderous campaign of intimidation by the Taliban and other extremists in Pakistan continues unabated.  In June a bomb attack on a bus in Quetta killed 14 young women students.  It was followed immediately by another attack on the hospital where survivors were being treated, killing 12 more people.  Several schoolgirls and others were wounded by a bomb outside their school in Bannu in September.

Terrorism against girls’ education is not the only problem.  In many countries, women are the victims of domestic violence and honor killings, and often have no voting rights.  Yet access to education could begin a process of eliminating such misogynistic institutions and policies.  The benefits of increased women’s contributions to the economy and society would follow.

The suppression of women’s education is thus also a suppression of many developing countries’ economic transformation.  Like slavery in an earlier era, it may seem hopelessly bound to the traditions of the time in much of the developing world, traditions that even now trap societies in a cycle of poverty and stagnation.

Slavery was largely eliminated within a few generations once popular opposition against it grew, compelling governments to act and leading eventually to emancipation around the world.  The Nobel Committee now has the opportunity to make a positive difference in the world, perhaps more so than in many years.  The Peace Prize can serve no higher purpose than to honor Malala and the transformative social and economic change she represents.