June 21, 2018 | By

As Rural Girls Rise, so Do the World’s Economic Markets

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs is thrilled to announce a new blog series, Stakeholder Girls, which highlights the central role that rural girls must play in consideration of the 2018 G7 priority theme areas. Each week in June, as the leadership of the G7 meets, we will discuss the central role of rural girls in responding to climate change, preparing for the future of work, economic growth and equality, and building a more secure world. If leaders do not consider the unique strengthens and concerns of rural girls, progress on each of these themes will be curtailed.
By Laura Glenn O'Carroll
Last week, this blog discussed the infrastructure, education, and time constraints that are holding rural girls back—as well as economic growth for us all. It has been well documented that whole communities benefit if women are paid higher incomes. When women work, they spend nearly all of their income on their family’s wellbeing—nearly 90 percent of their earnings. By comparison, men invest only 35 percent of their income back into their families. This impact multiplies when millions of women are empowered, creating compounding effects that can reshape entire economies and national fortunes. Even modest increases in women and girls’ empowerment can have large impacts. When 10 percent more girls go to school, a country’s GDP on average increases three percent.
The heads of the Group of Seven—the United States, Canada, France, Italy, the UK, Germany, and Japan—are seeking ways to grow the global economy, while ensuring equitable developments that leave no one behind. The richest countries in the world have already undergone a process of educational expansion and now have the advanced economies to show for it. For these high-income countries, debates around the middle class tend to focus on worries of increasing income inequality and mobility. Yet millions of rural girls, who overwhelming live in low- and middle-come countries (LMICs), have yet to receive the education, financial resources, and public health investments that they need in order to rise beyond poverty.
Throughout the world, middle class populations have underwritten economic expansion by increasing demand for goods and services. In 2015, the global middle class included over 3 billion people and was responsible for nearly two-thirds of consumer spending. By 2027, the global middle class is expected to swell to 5 billion. But the future of middle class growth depends on facilitating growth in all countries. During the previous decade, high-income countries only saw an average of a 0.4 percent increase in middle class growth, while LMICs saw an average of eight percent growth per year.


Investment Returns

But before economic gains can be realized, global leaders must invest in girls. When comparing regions, nearly one percent of variation in GDP growth can be directly accounted for by differences in educational gender gaps. Each additional year of education for a girl increases her wages by 10 to 20 percent, five percent higher than corresponding returns on each additional year for boys. This is because girls, particularly rural girls, are still underrepresented in education and thus investments reap higher dividends.
For girls to attend—and stay—in school, leaders must make the public health and safety investments needed to support them and address the social practices and stigmas inhibiting their school attendance. Holistic efforts that address the physical, mental, and social blocks holding girls back would reap dramatic returns. For example, child marriage remains a significant barrier to education for many; more than 41,000 girls younger than 18 are married every day. Girl brides are far less likely to complete their education, which permanently impacts their ability to earn a living wage. Ending child marriage alone could generate more than $500 billion in economic benefits each year. Supporting education for girls creates a virtuous cycle on this issue, as girls with more education are less likely to be married off at a young age—expanding education limits child marriage and limiting child marriage expands educational attainment.
Rural girls face numerous constraints in their ability to access the health resources that they need as clinics, hospitals, and counseling services in rural areas remain under resourced and remote. Girls are often the last in their families to eat and are at higher risk of being undernourished, which places them at further risk of being ill. In one survey of rural Indian children, nearly 45 percent of girls under the age of five were found to be malnourished, compared to 15 percent of boys of the same age. Rural girls were more than twice as likely to be stunted compared to boys, and less likely to receive medical treatment. Children that are unhealthy are far less likely to attend or complete schooling.


Safe Spaces

In rural areas, public spaces can still be unsafe for girls. Research suggests that rural areas experience more sexual violence than urban zones. Because of both real dangers and perceived threats, rural girls face tighter restrictions on their mobility, particularly as they enter adolescence. Without the infrastructure and public safety measures that girls and their families need to feel secure, rural girls will remain less likely to access education, health care, or participate in civic engagement.
Without these necessary investments, global economies will fail to reap the demographic dividends of a skilled, healthy workforce. The social effects of poverty are increasingly globalized, and destabilization of one region can now be felt across the world. Next week, this blog will discuss the central role that rural girls hold in global security efforts and the impacts of violence in their everyday life.

Read our previous posts in the Stakeholder Girls series:



The Global Food and Agriculture Program aims to inform the development of US policy on global agricultural development and food security by raising awareness and providing resources, information, and policy analysis to the US Administration, Congress, and interested experts and organizations.

The Global Food and Agriculture Program is housed within the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, an independent, nonpartisan organization that provides insight – and influences the public discourse – on critical global issues. The Council on Global Affairs convenes leading global voices and conducts independent research to bring clarity and offer solutions to challenges and opportunities across the globe. The Council is committed to engaging the public and raising global awareness of issues that transcend borders and transform how people, business, and governments engage the world.

Support for the Global Food and Agriculture Program is generously provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.


1,000 Days Blog, 1,000 Days

Africa Can End Poverty, World Bank

Agrilinks Blog

Bread Blog, Bread for the World

Can We Feed the World Blog, Agriculture for Impact

Concern Blogs, Concern Worldwide

Institute Insights, Bread for the World Institute

End Poverty in South Asia, World Bank

Global Development Blog, Center for Global Development

The Global Food Banking Network

Harvest 2050, Global Harvest Initiative

The Hunger and Undernutrition Blog, Humanitas Global Development

International Food Policy Research Institute News, IFPRI

International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center Blog, CIMMYT

ONE Blog, ONE Campaign

One Acre Fund Blog, One Acre Fund

Overseas Development Institute Blog, Overseas Development Institute

Oxfam America Blog, Oxfam America

Preventing Postharvest Loss, ADM Institute

Sense & Sustainability Blog, Sense & Sustainability

WFP USA Blog, World Food Program USA


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