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Jon Greenberg
By Jon Greenberg February 22, 2017

Bono: Each year of school adds 12% to a woman's income

U2 frontman-turned social activist Bono took to the podium at the Munich Security Conference to make the case that the world’s richest economies would benefit from lifting up the poorest. The lack of jobs breeds extremism, he argued.

"You may not be interested in the trouble on a far-off street or across the Mediterranean on the other side of the globe, but let me assure you, that trouble is interested in you," Bono said.

The singer-activist put education high on the list of where donors should put their money.

"We need a plan to make sure all girls can go to school -- 130 million girls around the world don't," Bono said. "For every extra year a girl goes to school, her income goes up 12 percent. Some studies even suggest that more education can reduce a country's risk of conflict by 20 percent."

We wondered about the power of education to lift the incomes of women. Does each year of schooling actually lead to a 12 percent rise in earnings?

According to the most recent research, it does.

A 2014 study from the World Bank took data from 139 countries over a span of four decades and found that both men and women gain from going to school, and women gain more.

"When considering only males, the rate of return to another year of schooling is 9.6 percent, and for females the rate of returns is much higher, at 11.7 percent," the authors wrote. Their chart helps show the differences.

Bono’s press office at One, the advocacy organization he co-founded, told us this was the study behind his claim.

The findings seem pretty clear, but we checked with Christina Kwauk, a post-doctoral fellow at the Center for Universal Education at the Brookings Institution, an academic center in Washington. Kwauk said not only is the average gain correct, but schooling continues to pay as women rise through the education system.

"Higher levels of education have even higher rates of return," she said. "For example, an additional year of tertiary education is associated with nearly a 17 percent increase in income."

Research also shows that gains are highest in low-income countries. In sub-Saharan Africa, the average increase is over 14 percent for women. That’s due in part to the very low starting point.

It’s not totally clear why women gain more than men from education, but one theory is that women get a double advantage from going to school. Not only does it increase their skills -- as it does for a man -- but it also reduces the wage gap between men and women. So long as a society is open to hiring a woman for a higher paid job, her income bump will be larger compared to women with less education.

A number of studies provide important caveats. They highlight that the quality of education matters, and simply finishing one year of schooling is not a guarantee that someone has learned as much as one might expect. Social attitudes also have an strong impact. If women are excluded from certain kinds of work, that will place a limit on their income gains.

Our ruling

Bono said that for every extra year a girl goes to school, her income goes up 12 percent. A recent World Bank study based on numbers from more than a hundred countries found that the average woman gained 11.7 percent more in wages with each year of school. Rounding up to 12 percent seems fair.

These gains can vary both up and down, depending on the country, but that’s the nature of an average.

We rate this claim True.

Our Sources

One, Bono at the Munich Security Conference: Security without development is unsustainable, Feb. 18, 2017

Munich Security Conference, Strengthening our common security, Feb. 17, 2017

World Bank, Comparable Estimates of Returns to Schooling Around the World, 2014

World Bank, Returns to Schooling around the World, 2013

Journal of Human Resources, Why Are the Returns to Schooling Higher for Women than for Men?, 2005

UNESCO, Global education monitoring report, 2016

U.N. Girls Education Initiative, Rigorous Review: Girls' learning and empowerment - The role of school environments, accessed Feb. 20, 2017

Email interview, Kathy McKiernan, spokeswoman, One, Feb. 21, 2017

Email interview, Christina Kwauk, post-doctoral fellow, Center for Universal Education, Brookings Institution, Feb. 20, 2017


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