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An examination of some mechanisms underlying externality benefits of girls' schooling


Evidence on the extent of low enrolment and late entry for a sample of rural households in Ethiopia is provided, and two potential sources of education externality benefits for school-age children, parental and neighbourhood education, are examined. The education of parents, most significantly mothers, is found to contribute to children's schooling, as does the education of neighbourhood women. The mechanisms by which such externalities may operate are considered by examining the effects of cognitive and non-cognitive outputs of schooling upon current school enrolment of children. Findings illustrate both the importance of girls' schooling and some challenges for education policy.

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Fig. 1


  1. Children younger than the usual school-going age are also omitted from calculations of net enrolment ratios. Recalculation of the NERs for all 15 sites to include younger enrolled children give NERs that are very close to the figures presented in Table 1, suggesting that most of the difference between NERs and GERs is owing to the enrolment of children who are older than usual for their level of schooling.

  2. In total, 996 household members from the four sites covered by the ESSS have been to school, according to data from the first two rounds of the ERHS. Unfortunately, 361 of these respondents were not available to answer questions on their education histories at the time of the survey. Of the 635 respondents for whom information is available, 263 have completed at least one year of junior secondary school (grades 7–8) and 156 of these have completed one year or more of senior secondary school (grades 9–12).

  3. Cognitive skill was measured as the total score on a test of basic literacy (reading comprehension and writing) and numeracy (addition and subtraction), which was conducted alongside the survey questionnaire for those household heads and spouses who had ever acquired cognitive skill whether or not they had been to school. Weir (1998) provides a more detailed discussion of the survey instruments.

  4. Attitudes toward schooling were measured by constructing a Likert index based on responses to a set of agree/disagree and hypothetical situation questions designed to elicit opinions of the household head and spouse on the benefits of formal schooling. Negative responses were assigned a score of −1, positive responses a score of +1 (or up to 3 for hypothetical situation questions where stronger opinions were expressed), and non-responses a score of zero. Responses were aggregated across questions to provide a single index score. Weir (1998) and Weir (2000) provide more information on the questions asked and methodology used to construct the index.

  5. Alternatively, it may be that women with higher levels of cognitive skill enjoy more power over the enrolment decision and use this power to ensure that their daughters are also educated.

  6. This is similar to the finding of Alderman et al. (1996) for Pakistan that fathers' education significantly predicts girls' schooling but is not significant in the boys' schooling equation.

  7. Neighbourhoods were defined by the particular geographical features and distribution of households within the site, ascertained from the enumerators' site maps with each surveyed household marked. There are 17 different neighbourhoods in total across the four sites, with between two and six per site.


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This research was undertaken at the Centre for the Study of African Economies, University of Oxford. The UK Department for International Development (DFID), which supports policies, programmes and projects to promote international development, provided funds for this study as part of that objective. The views and opinions expressed are those of the author alone. John Knight provided invaluable advice and feedback. Helpful comments were provided by Francis Teal and other participants at a seminar in Oxford and at a workshop in Addis Ababa and by two anonymous referees of this journal. Responsible editor: Junsen Zhang.

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Correspondence to Sharada Weir.

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Weir, S. An examination of some mechanisms underlying externality benefits of girls' schooling. J Popul Econ 20, 203–222 (2007).

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  • Girls' education
  • Neighbourhood effects
  • Ethiopia


  • I21
  • O15
  • D12