Investing in the education of adolescent girls isn't just paramount from a social perspective — there are major economic consequences, too. According to new research from Citi Global Insights and Plan International, emerging economies can boost their GDP by an average of 10% if 100% of girls complete secondary school by 2030.
The 10% GDP bump would come inclusive of costs, which Citi found to be just $1.53 per day per girl. Over the longer-term, the economic consequences are far greater due to the ripple effect across families and local communities.
Citi's finding that $1.53 invested per day per girl could make a meaningful difference is based on analysis from eight countries: Ghana, Uganda, Mali, El Salvador, Bolivia, India, Lao People's Democratic Republic and Egypt.
The economic benefits of greater equality for women in the workforce are well understood, but the role adolescent girls play is often overlooked. Part of this is due to poor data collection. And when data is collected, it's often evaluated from a sector-specific lens — such as the impacts of investing in just education, or just health care.
But Citi said that in order to achieve higher graduation rates for young women and better prospects down the line, a more holistic approach needs to be taken that addresses the many challenges facing young women, including forced marriage and restrictive laws.
The firm emphasized that health, education, violence and economic independence are inter-connected, meaning they cannot be tackled apart from one another. Given the scope of this multi-pronged approach, Citi argues there needs to be collaboration between governments, NGOs, the private sector and philanthropic institutions.
"If stakeholders operate in siloes, change will still take place — but it will be achieved at greater cost, with lower impact, and over a longer timeframe. There is no time to waste," the report said. "Investing in girls should be prioritized across economies not only because it is the right thing to do, but because it also delivers unparalleled returns and impact across society and generations," the bank added.
More than 130 million girls around the world are out of school, with 85% of girls in low-income countries failing to obtain a secondary education, according to UNESCO. These figures are from before the coronavirus pandemic hit and are set to rise in the aftermath of Covid-19. UNESCO estimates that more than 11 million girls might not return to school following the pandemic.
"The economic benefits cannot be delivered with a flick of a switch but take time to build as successive cohorts of educated girls leave school and enter the labor force. This means sustained interventions and investments are needed now to set girls and economies on an upward and stronger trajectory," the report said.
- CNBC's Michael Bloom contributed reporting.
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