Education Around The World

A Story About Gender Equality in Education and Quality of Life

Quality Education
Gender Equality


Gender inequality in education is a topic of global attention and has been occupying politicians, economists, and researchers alike. In the sustainable development goals framework by the United Nations (UN), quality education is goal number 4, and gender equality is goal number 5, aiming to empower women and girls1. According to the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, education is seen as an enabling and transforming human right where gender equality is implicit in the formulation2.

Even though gender equality is still a work in progress, there have been some improvements enabled by international commitments. For instance, child marriage rates dropped, and female representation of women in politics has increased. However, the world has still not reached a standard where women experience gender equality and where social, legal, and economic hindrances to their success and empowerment have been eliminated. As the latest data from 89 countries from 2001 until 2018 shows, women spend around three times the hours of men in unpaid care and domestic work per day. Moreover, the time spent in activities like this rises, potentially having young children at home. However, in 75% of these countries, there has also been a slight decrease of that time observed that women spend compared to men4
According to data from 133 countries nowadays women have better access to decision-making positions. Still, only 15% of countries have a fully gender-balanced parliament and government. Therefore, more improvements are necessary.

To show that gender equality and quality of life are related, this story presents a variety of graphs and maps. To assess equality in education, we use different measures such as the ratio of boys to girls attending primary and secondary school and the literacy rate and mean years of schooling. To determine the quality of life, we use the life ladder from the World Happiness Report17 and the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita15.

Research Question

We investigate how gender equality in education can influence the quality of life worldwide. To do so, we first give an overview of the current state of education worldwide and show differences in access to education between girls and boys across the globe. Then we present our readers an in-depth analysis of gender equality and quality of life. After going through the whole report, readers should be able to answer the following questions:

  • What is the current state of education around the world?
  • How far advanced is gender equality in education across the globe?
  • What is the relationship between gender equality in education and two quality of life measures?

Education overview

Education overview

Quality Education is the fourth of the SDGs and aims to create “inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all .” Moreover, education is a cornerstone of many other goals, such as Gender Equality. To achieve the targets by 2030, there are several principles set up by the UN1. The first one states that education is an enabling right and a fundamental human right. The second one declares education as a public good, and the third principle proclaims an inextricable link between gender equality and education for all.

To represent the state of education across the world, we chose three variables:
  • The average time a child spends in school.
  • The literacy rate
  • The enrollment rate in primary education. (Enrollment rates over 100% indicate the share of overaged students due to repetition or late/early school entries)

As the dataset for mean years in school was quite complete, we chose to display the data for 2019. Unfortunately, the other two datasets were quite fragmented, with records for different years. Due to this, we decided to show the most recent record going back until 2010.

Unfortunately, the world is not on course to achieve the 2030 education targets. Before the corona pandemic, the proportion of children and youth not attending primary and secondary school decreased from 26% in 2000 to 19% in 2010. In 2018, it was even down to 17%. Even though these numbers show a favorable development, there were still 258 million children out of school in 2018. Three-quarters of them living in Southern Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa.

This map reflects these findings, with the vast majority of countries having a primary school enrollment rate higher than 89% and a literacy rate of over 81%. Moreover, in many countries, children spend, on average, more than nine years in school. However, there are notable exceptions, such as Sub-Saharan Africa and Afghanistan, which show low enrollment and literacy rates. In addition, to these low enrollment rates there, children also spend significantly less time in school. Thus, the global pattern of education variables unsurprisingly resembles the distribution of highly developed nations, developing countries, and war-torn regions.

Gender Equality in Education and Quality of Life

Gender Equality in Education and Quality of Life

The UN expects gender equality in education to have a positive impact on child well-being and development. Moreover, it will contribute to equal employment as well as economic growth. In contrast, gender inequality in access to education has negative consequences for skill development, early marriage, employment, and thus also economic independence.

To represent gender equality in education, we chose the following two variables:
  • The ratio of mean years spent in school spent by girls to boys (1.0 means that girls spend the same amount of time in school as boys)
  • The ratio of girls to boys in primary and secondary education (1.0 means that there is the same amount of girls in school as boys)
To represent the quality of life, we chose the following two variables:
  • Life ladder: Respondents should think of a ladder, where the best possible life for them is a 10, and the worst possible life is a 0
  • GDP per capita

The variables mean years in school and enrollment were taken into account because they are comparable measures between countries and they highlight important aspects about the education in a given country by giving hints on the accessibility and amount of education. The enrollment rate states how many boys and girls are enrolled and thus indicates accessibility to schools. The mean years of schooling on the other hand gives an indication about the amount of education obtained.

The educational system in a country often reflects existing inequalities. Gender inequality not only negatively influences access to education, but unequal access to education also reinforces gender inequalities in society as a whole. Nevertheless, important achievements have been made in recent years. From the year 2000 until 2015 the number of girls per hundred boys has risen from 92 to 97 in primary school and in secondary school from 91 to 975. Interestingly once enrolled as many girls as boys finish their grades, leaving equality in enrollment as the most important target to achieve more equality in education6.

The idea that equality in education is somehow connected with quality of life feels quite intuitive. Studies have shown that gender equality benefits women and men and leads to more societal and subjective wellbeing and quality of life. Equality improves wellbeing because it enables individual freedom of choice, greater social options and control over one's own life7. Moreover, education leads to a healthier lifestyle due to more possibilities in work and better economic conditions. Poorly educated people are more likely to experience chronic disease and self-reported poor health and display a shorter life expectancy8. For the specific case of gender equality in education, there are findings for the area of Pakistan suggesting that higher literacy rate, primary school enrollment, and gender equality in education are important factors to determine an individual's quality of life directly 9.

The map on the front side supports the intuition that equality in education is connected with quality of life. We can observe that countries with high life ladder and GDP values show more equal ratio between men and women and their mean years of schooling . The same relationship applies for the life ladder and GDP values and enrollment rates for boys and girls. An exception is India where they have an equal ratio of boys and girls enrolled and also equal ratio of mean years of schooling but a low life ladder value of 4. The global distribution is characterized by Europe and North America showing high life ladder values and equal enrollment rates and mean years of schooling and countries on the African and Asian continent having less gender equality in education and lower overall quality of life. South America can be seen as the continent in between with relatively high quality of life values and gender equality in education. In Brasil for examples there are even more girls enrolled then boys!

Gender Equality in Education and Quality of Life

Bubble size represents population size.

Correlation of gender equality in education and quality of life

The maps on the last page already indicated some relationship between gender equality in education and higher quality of life measures. The bubble plots support these findings as we can see a moderate correlation between mean years of schooling and GDP as well as the life ladder. We can also observe a difference between continents. In Europe and the Americas, children tend to spend the same amount of time in school, regardless of gender. They also exhibit relatively high values for the quality of life, meaning high GDP and high life ladder values. Thus, these visualizations demonstrate the importance of comparing gender equality in education and quality of life as there are reoccurring patterns over the globe. Generally, more developed countries enjoy more gender equality in education and more quality of life, whereas people in others tend to be in less favorable situations.

Nevertheless, the correlation between gender equality in education and quality of life does not tell the whole story as correlation does not imply causation. It is unclear if gender equality leads to a better quality of life or if better quality of life leads to more gender equality. Furthermore, we only included two measures for quality of life, which do not portray the whole picture. Quality of life is an intricate subject that needs to be better researched and needs more data and indicators with solid worldwide coverage. Gender equality in education is also a multi-scalar subject which we only approximated with two values. It would be interesting to include more subjective data from interviews towards the perceived equality in education and also measures of equal participation opportunities. As we did not analyze the dependencies between GDP and life ladder, their relationship remains unclear. As a self-assessment of quality of life does probably include financial security, the life ladder is, to some extent, dependent on the GDP. Moreover, we did not conduct a statistical analysis which would be crucial for future research.


Gender Gap in Education Index

The data for quantifying the gender gap in education index originates from the World Bank with data collected by the UNESCO Institute for Statistics from responses to its annual education survey10. The index is calculated by dividing the female enrollment ratio by male enrollment ratio in primary and secondary education. As education is quite challenging to measure the index is mapped to the International Standard Classification of Education which ensures some comparability of the manifold education system around the world. The gender gap in education index is further criticized for being not enough contextualized and parity being measured to naively. The index may show parity in access, but this does not mean boys and girls are equally able to actively participate in class or to achieve similar goals in and through first and secondary education11.

Literacy, Enrollment and Mean Years in Schooling

For the maps on education, we further included data on literacy rate, enrollment in primary and secondary school and mean years of schooling in 1990 and 2019. The data for the literacy rate is from Our World in Data12 which they gathered from various sources including inter alia the World Bank, UNESCO and the OECD. The literacy is assessed via self-reported literacy by people, literacy declared by the head of household, tested literacy with a proficiency examination and indirect estimations which rely on indirect evidence from educational attainment and highest degree of completed education12. The data for primary and secondary school enrollment is from the World Bank 13. As data coverage is unequal around the world, we decided to pick the most recent data for every country leading to a time span for the data between 1993 to 2018. The primary and secondary enrollment is measured by dividing the number of enrollments of official schools by the population of the age group corresponding to primary and secondary education. Values over 100% are possible due to over- or under-aged students which need to repeat classes or entered school earlier or later then its age group. The data for mean years of schooling origins from the United Nations development programme. The United Nations define mean years of schooling as “the average number of years of education received by people ages 25 and older, converted from education attainment levels using official duration of each level.”14.


The GDP describes the gross domestic product meaning the sum of gross value added by all inhabitants of a country. Any taxes are added to calculate the GDP, but subsidies not included in the product are removed. The data for the GDP originates from national accounts data and is gathered by the World Bank which also adjusts data from certain countries due to different definitions, methods and reporting standards15. Difficulties not only arrive from different survey standards but also because of informal economies and subsistence agriculture. The GDP is one of the most used indicators for social welfare and progress but also received substantial criticism over the years. The GDP index is said to only measure market transactions ignoring social costs, environmental impacts and income inequalities. The GDP is said to be inadequate in measuring quality of life as subjective well-being is not at all included16.

Life Ladder

The World Happiness Report is a publication of the Sustainable Development Solutions Network17. The data is delivered from the Gallup World Poll and Lloyd’s Register Foundation. The sample size of the data is 2000 to 3000 samples per country where not every country is surveyed every year. The index, called life ladder, is calculated with reference to Dystopia, a fictional country with the world’s least happy people. The 6 variables used to calculate the life ladder are backed by research literature on national-level life evaluations. The variables span income, life expectancy, generosity, corruption, freedom and social support. The happiness measurements from the World Happiness Report was also subject to critique. Whereas the World Happiness Report combines the variables in an additive manner a multiplicative model better accounts for synergies between the variables and has a higher explanatory power18. Furthermore, the index was criticized for being too subjective as well as focused too much on material well-being. Including for example suicide rates and divorce rates into the model results in different values and ranking19.


This project on gender equality in education was created during the course Geo878 Geovisualization at the University of Zurich.

Team Members

This Project was conducted by:
  • Amy Kunz
  • Lino Asper
  • Patrick Luchsinger


Should any questions arise, fell free to contact any team-member via e-mail (


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