Academic journal article Demographic Research

Changing Norms about Gender Inequality in Education: Evidence from Bangladesh [Dagger]

Academic journal article Demographic Research

Changing Norms about Gender Inequality in Education: Evidence from Bangladesh [Dagger]

Article excerpt

"Earlier fathers used to say "what is the use of educating girls....they will go to another house'. But now, fathers send both daughters and sons to school and college." School going adolescent girl, Mymensingh

"Mothers of the earlier generation used to advise their daughters to learn house-work and get education up to primary; now mothers are telling their daughters to get at least secondary school certificate." School going adolescent boy, Satkhira

Source: World Bank (2008)

1. Introduction

Social norms and attitudes are often indicators of social trends and of the demand for various goods and services. They also frequently point to the trajectory of social change. It is therefore not surprising that norms and attitudes have been studied by scholars for several decades. The literature on norms and their transformation is rich, especially in the US. During the 1970s Mason et al. (1976) looked at changing attitudes regarding women's labor market and domestic roles at a time when the women's movement in the US was gaining strength, and women were entering the labor market in large numbers. Other scholars built on this work by attempting to assess the importance of education in changing -sex role attitudes." Still others asked how norms and values change, and whether behaviors precede changes in norms, or vice versa.

We aim to add to this body of work by looking at changes in attitudes regarding some aspects of gender equality in Bangladesh during a period of rapid social transformation. This work is of particular significance for a number of reasons. First, while in developed countries with high-quality datasets there have been many analyses of gender norms and attitudes, in developing countries with less high-quality data there have been relatively few studies on gender norms, and those that have been conducted have been restricted to small samples and to topics such as attitudes regarding reproductive decision-making, sex preferences for children, and violence against women. In addition, most of the research conducted in developing countries has focused on using attitudes as explanatory variables for a number of outcomes, rather than as outcome variables in their own right.

Drawing on the literature on changes in -sex-role attitudes" from the US, which has documented changes in attitudes toward gender equality (Mason et al. 1976; Mason and Lu 1988; Brewster and Padavic 2000), and on a body of literature which has assessed the importance of education in changing attitudes toward gender inequality (Kane and Kyyro 2001), we ask how norms regarding gender equality in education have changed in Bangladesh, and also what the individual-level determinants of these attitudes are. While we cannot delineate clear causal pathways of change, we try to separate out the correlates of attitudes to gender equality in education. Additionally, we decompose the intergenerational gaps in the norms in gender equality in education into changes in the observable characteristics and in the responses to those characteristics; and, in doing so, we carefully incorporate recent methodological advances that address potential problems that have arisen in previous decompositions of this kind.

Because most societies in South Asia suffer from entrenched son preference and low parental investments in girls' education, we believe it is important to explore the topic of norms regarding gender inequality in education. Parents often do not see the value of educating girls for a number of supply and demand reasons. This translates into poor educational outcomes for girls in absolute terms, but also relative to those of boys. We believe that this paper will enrich our empirical understanding of norm transformation and of some critical areas of gender inequality.

Previous research on education and gender norms has primarily focused on the question of whether education is a liberalizing influence or a constraint on attitudes regarding gender equality. …

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