The Economic Costs of the Lack of Sex Education
In our last article, we explained why sex education is important for teens and young adults. We explained why not being prepared with comprehensive sex-education is risky and dangerous not just for our teenage years, but also beyond that. There is huge value in comprehensive sex education and it has deep consequences for us at a community level.
Would you believe it if we told you that a country’s development and prosperity have a lot to do with sex education?
Traditional society insists that sex should not be discussed with kids and teenagers. However, these kids eventually grow up to be members of society who have limited awareness. They have not learnt about consent, communication, personal distance, or building healthy relationships with individuals of the same or other genders and sexualities.
We may not realize it, but gender roles and stereotypes (explained below) shape our cultural and economic decisions. These in turn have real financial and economic impact.
The bottom line we are trying to make is that a lack of comprehensive sex education has real, far-reaching consequences. And these go beyond just the individual concerned. There is serious economic incentive to creating gender parity and breaking many taboos around this topic. Let us elaborate further to explain.
Entry barriers for girls and non-binary genders
Stereotypical gender roles identify men as the breadwinners of the family. Women are expected to be at home, look after the household and family, carry out domestic chores, and raise the children.
As a result of this traditional mindset, time and financial investment in education are mostly directed towards the males in the family. Individuals belonging to non-binary genders (such as the third gender) also suffer discrimination within families, communities, and schools.
The lack of toilets and sanitation facilities is also a major barrier for non-males to complete formal schooling or be comfortable at all kinds of work places. (Fortunately we now have more ongoing conversations around insufficient hygiene education as well as normalizing the taboos relating to menstruation and body positivity. These should help enable non-males to access education and become a part of the workforce.)
Even if girls do get an education, patriarchal values prevent them from pursuing aggressive or high-growth careers. They are expected to get married and eventually stay at home. Even if they do work, the options may remain limited. Cultural norms restrict the kinds of jobs considered ‘decent’ or acceptable for women.
This lack of participation in the workforce leads to loss of agency and independence for non-males.
Glass ceiling for women and non-binary genders
Even when women or people from non-binary genders do join the workforce, there is a glass-ceiling. The glass-ceiling is a metaphor for the invisible barriers that prevent women and minorities from growing or getting the best jobs within their industries.
Research indicates that societies with higher women’s Labour Force Participation Rate (LFPR) have faster and more sustainable socioeconomic mobility. This means that if more women are encouraged to work, their families and communities rise with them.
Redefining gender roles and breaking these entry and growth barriers can have deep and positive economic consequences for many communities. None of this can happen without comprehensive sex education.
Companies invest millions in POSH
Even prior to the #MeToo movement, companies had been spending millions on Prevention of Sexual Harassment (PoSH) training and monitoring every year to provide a safe, secure, and enabling environment, free from sexual harassment, especially for women.
This investment has multiplied further with the revelations that the #MeToo movement has brought forward. Extensive research in the US indicates that an average damage of US$22,500 per employee is lost in productivity and employee turnover owing to sexual harassment.
Most large companies also have sizable diversity and inclusion programs to build a cohesive work environment. All of this activity stems partly due to lack of sexuality education during the formative years.
Despite these efforts, sexual harassment, gender bias/inequality, and many other related issues still continue to persist. As of 2017, there was a 45% increase in sexual harassment seen between the years 2014-2017.
Research has shown that company cultures where these issues exist have higher turnover, lower employee productivity, and increased absenteeism. The impact on bottom line and company culture and eventually performance is real. Sex education at a younger age in a more formal set-up can help address (at least partially), these kinds of issues.
Can you imagine how many young adults entering the workforce have no clue how to talk to members of other genders or sexualities? In a world where teamwork, respect, and collaboration are crucial, how will they survive?
National costs of the lack of sex education
Everything we’ve described at an individual and company level above eventually snowballs to the country level. And when the prosperity of the nation suffers, we are all impacted and growth slows down.
Looking at India specifically, the women’s LFPR dropped from 42.7% (2005) to 23.3% (2018). This basically means that 3 out of 4 Indian women are neither working nor seeking paid work.
India is in the bottom 10 countries in terms of women’s workforce participation.
There are a couple of key reasons to explain the significance of this statistic.
- Research indicates many of the reasons for the low LFPR relate to problems that comprehensive sex education can resolve.
- When more people participate in economic activity, it has a compounding effect. The Gross National Income (GNI), and Per Capita Income get impacted positively. People then are able to pay higher taxes and have improved household spending and savings. The consumption of more value-added goods, economic mobility and independence, investment in personal healthcare, education, and opportunities also go up.
Increasing women’s labour force participation by 10 percentage points could add $770 billion to India’s GDP by 2025.
When more people have economic freedom, they have better decision-making abilities and the freedom to lift themselves and their families out of difficult circumstances. Poverty, crime, sanitation, and so many other social challenges can begin to be addressed in effective ways.
So it is safe to say that bringing more people to a more level-playing field with sex education and empowering them to take concrete steps towards gender equality can begin to impact national prosperity.
Conclusion: Sex education is critical
It is critical for young adults to understand how relationships, laws, and respect work in a civil community. This will only lead to more empowerment for all parties involved.
A better understanding of sex, sexuality, and gender roles will help us eliminate taboos such as treating women as impure during periods or looking down on same-sex couples. It will also generate empathy towards victims of sexual violence and eradicate victim-blaming as well as body-shaming.
Quality sex education will make us conscious consumers of the media around us. It will help us see the problems in the existing systems of education, entertainment, and culture that we have been ignoring. This, in turn, will make us sensible human beings and help us create a better tomorrow.
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- McKinsey & Company: The Power of Parity: Advancing Women’s Equality in Asia Pacific