I recently read an interesting paper by Rachel Heath and A. Mushfiq Mobarak, of the Universities of Washington and Yale, which looks at the impact that the garment industry has on young girls and women in Bangladesh.
The results are quite amazing. According to the study, girls in villages close to garment factories (or sweatshops, as they are sometimes called):
- Delay marriage. On average, a young girl living near a garment factory was 28% less likely to get married in the study year than the average Bangladeshi girl. This effect was strongest among 12-18 year olds.
- Delay childbirth. On average, a young girl living near a garment factory was 29% less likely to give birth in the study year than average. Again, this effect was strongest among 12-18 year olds.
- Are much more likely to go to school. Exposure to garment factory jobs was associated with a 38.6% increase in school enrolment rates. Broken down, this translated into a slightly lower enrolment rate for 17-18 year old girls, who presumably were more likely to be in work, and a considerably higher enrolment rate for girls younger than that.
According to the study’s authors, these findings are probably due to some combination of wealth effects (richer families need to marry off their daughters less early, and can afford to send their daughters to school for longer) and the fact that garment factory jobs reward skills, increasing the value of education.
The paper is an important reminder that sweatshops may provide significant benefits to their employees and the places they are located. They are by no means all good, but they are not all bad either, which well-meaning campaigners against sweatshops would do well to remember. A working version of the whole paper can be accessed here.