Mocan & Cannonier (2012) took advantage of a naturally-occurring "experiment" in Sierra Leone. The country suffered a devastating, decade-long civil war during the 1990s, which destroyed much of the country's infrastructure, including schools. In 2001, Sierra Leone instituted a program offering free primary education; attendance was compulsory.
This policy provided significant opportunities for girls who were young enough for primary school, but none for older children. Further, resources to implement the program were not equivalent in all districts of the country. The authors used these quirky reasons that the program was more or less accessible to compare girls who participated and those who did not. (Researchers controlled for other variables such as religion, ethnic background, residence in an urban area, and wealth.)
The outcome of interest was empowerment, which the researchers defined as "having the knowledge along with the power and the strength to make the right decisions regarding one's own well-being."
The outcome measures came from a 2008 study (the Sierra Leone Demographic and Health Survey) which summarized interviews with over 10,000 individuals.
Better educated women were more likely to believe
- a woman is justified in refusing sex with her husband if she knows he has a sexually transmitted disease
- that a husband beating his wife is wrong
- that female genital mutilation is wrong
Better educated women were more likely to endorse these behaviors:
- having fewer children
- using contraception
- getting tested for AIDS
One of the oddest findings in these data is also one of the most important to understanding the changes in attitudes: they are not due to changes in literacy. The researchers drew that conclusion because an increase in education had no impact on literacy, likely because the quality of instruction in schools was very low. The best guess is that the impact of schooling on attitudes was through social avenues.
Mocan, N. H. & Cannonier, C. (2012) Empowering women through education: Evidence from Sierra Leone. NBER working paper 18016.