And interesting new NBER working paper from Rachel Heath and A. Mushfiq Mobarak (disclaimer: I haven’t had time to fully read it yet):
NBER Working Paper No. 20383
We study the effects of explosive growth in the Bangladeshi ready-made garments industry on the lives on Bangladeshi women. We compare the marriage, childbearing, school enrollment and employment decisions of women who gain greater access to garment sector jobs to women living further away from factories, to years before the factories arrive close to some villages, and to the marriage and enrollment decisions of their male siblings. Girls exposed to the garment sector delay marriage and childbirth. This stems from (a) young girls becoming more likely to be enrolled in school after garment jobs (which reward literacy and numeracy) arrive, and (b) older girls becoming more likely to be employed outside the home in garment-proximate villages. The demand for education generated through manufacturing growth appears to have a much larger effect on female educational attainment compared to a large-scale government conditional cash transfer program to encourage female schooling.
This looks like more evidence (if any more was needed) that anti-globalisation arguments against trade are wrong. IT’s also evidence from an interesting direction: gender equality.
Remember though, this isn’t evidence to suggest that sweatshops themselves are good. If you make this argument, you’re falling into the fallacy of one choice and just two options: either trade and sweatshops or no sweatshops and rural poverty. There is a third way: trade plus ongoing campaigning to improve conditions in garment factories, using the levers we have as consumers, though aid, and maybe (maybe, maybe) through trade agreements. While also trying raise human capital through every means possible to ultimately give women in developing countries as many options as those in our countries have. That’s the right way to think about this, I think.