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Religious affiliation, marital processes and women's educational attainment in a developing society - Statistical Data Included

Religious affiliation, marital processes and women's educational attainment in a developing society - Statistical Data IncludedINTRODUCTION

For quite some time, sociologists have been interested in looking at the relationship between religious involvement and human behavior. An early attempt at this line of research can be found in Weber's work on the Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (Weber 1958). In this study, Weber documented how Protestantism, particularly Calvinist theology, helped foster an ideology and orientation that led to the legitimization of the capitalist mode of production in the West. More recently, and especially in the U.S., studies have also looked at the interrelationship between religion and a host of social and demographic processes, including reproduction, marriage, divorce, and educational attainment, as well as achievement orientations (Lehrer 1996; Call and Heaton 1997; Keysar and Kosmin 1995; Heaton and Cornwall 1989; Brinkerhoff and Mackie 1984; Halevy and Etzioni-Halevy 1974; McClelland 1961).

Recent studies on the links between religion and educational processes have provided some information as to how and why religion influences educational attainment. Unfortunately, most of the studies that deal with religion and education (especially women's education) tend to be based on samples from developed countries (see e.g., Keysar and Kosmin 1995; Heaton and Cornwall 1989; Brinkerhoff and Mackie 1984; Halevy and Etzioni-Halevy 1974). Not surprisingly, not much is known about how religion influences the educational attainment of women in the developing world. In the case of sub-Saharan Africa, where women's educational levels are lower than those of their male counterparts, not much has been written about the intersection between religion and women's educational processes (for some exceptions, see Logan, Josephine, and Beoku-Betts 1996; Kelly 1987; Csapo 1981; Blakemore 1975).

In addition to the paucity of studies on the subject matter in sub-Saharan Africa, the few studies that do exist tend to be descriptive rather than analytical. Also, these studies fail to demonstrate how the influence of religion on women's educational attainment varies from one generation to another due to state educational policies. More importantly, exploration regarding the nature of the interplay between religious culture and women's educational attainment in the region has also been plagued by the absence of reliable data sets containing enough information on both variables. Our purpose in this paper is to contribute to the limited studies that deal with religion and women's education. Specifically, we use national level data on women to explore the links between their religious background and educational attainment in Ghana. In the process, we evaluate whether religious background influences the acquisition and pursuit of higher education or not, in a region where religious norms, values and practices do impact the lives of married women.

We focus on married women for two main reasons. First, we subscribe to the idea that women's education has a salutary effect on socioeconomic processes in the developing world (see e.g., Fallon 1999; Glick and Sahn 1997; Odaga and Henevald 1995; Herz, Subbarao, Habib, and Raney 1991). Not only does education provide women with increased access to avenues of employment outside the home, it also enables them to have greater economic independence. Economic independence and self-sufficiency in turn translate into increased decision-making at the household level (Cain 1984). Moreover, increased education and the autonomy that comes with it may influence women's reproductive decisions regarding issues such as contraceptive use, as well as their actual and desired fertility. It is no surprise that social demographers have paid considerable attention to the issue of women's education when it comes to issues of women's empowerment or discussions about "the status of women" (see e.g., Mason 1984; Cain 1984). Second, in many parts of Africa, including Ghana, women s educational experiences are somewhat different from those of men. For example, although women account for slightly more than 50 percent of Ghana's total population, the majority of children who are not enrolled in school are girls (Dolphyne 1997; Ministry of Education 1995, 1997; FAWE 1993, 1995).

While it is true that Ghana's educational policies and laws do not discriminate against girls (women), the reality of the situation is that, because of the differential returns to parents from children (Caldwell 1982), sons tend to be given preferential treatment over girls when it comes to school enrollment. This is especially the case in situations where parents are forced to choose [for one reason or another -- (e.g., poverty)] between educating their sons or daughters. Not only are girls disadvantaged in enrollment levels, they are also more likely than boys to drop out of school. This practice reflects in part the lack of tolerance for girls who become pregnant while in school, and also the strong urge for girl to marry in the country. Because of the pronatalist and pro-marriage ideology that exists in Ghana, an ideology that is framed within a religious framework, girls are less likely to pursue higher education than boys because they drop out of school to marry at an earlier age. Thus, in the context of Ghana, religious values and norms (whether based on tradition or not) are used to rationalize choices parents make when it comes to women's education. It is therefore no surprise that gross enrollment figures in Ghana show a gender disparity at all levels in favor of boys, and especially at the higher levels (Ministry of Education 1997; Amua-Sekyi 1998; Atakpa 1996; Dolphyne 1997).


The setting of this study is Ghana, a country situated in the West African sub-region, about the size of the State of North Carolina in the United States. It was the first Black African nation to gain its political independence from centuries of British colonial rule in 1957. Because of Ghana's long historical ties to merchants and religious missionaries from several European countries, almost all of the established European religious denominations are well represented in the country. These include such groups as Methodists, Presbyterians, Basels, Bremen missions, Anglicans, and Catholics. In addition to these orthodox Christian groups, the country also boasts a number of other Christian groups such as the Jehovah's Witnesses, the Seventh Day Adventists, the Church of Christ, and the Mormons. Beside these "other Christian" churches with a foreign origin, some of the Christian groups are indigenous in origin. Of these groups, some of the well-known ones are the Church of Pentecost, Christ Apostolic Church, African Tabernacle Church, Musama Disco Christo Church, Eden Revival Church and recently numerous Spiritual and Charismatic Churches. Most of these Ghanaian-originated churches emerged because of disagreement over certain theological practices between the orthodox groups and some of their members. For example, numerous churches have emerged from the Christ Apostolic of Ghana due to minor differences in the interpretation of the Bible and ensuing power struggles.

Although Ghana has a long history with Christian influences, and a religious revival may be currently on-going in the country, official statistics present another picture. According to reported data, only 43 percent of people identify themselves as Christians (Catholics, Protestants, and Other Christians). Another 38 percent call themselves traditionalists (including those with no religion), and 12 percent are believed to be Muslims (Ghana in Figures 1992). These figures, however, are inconsistent with what has been reported since the 1980s. For instance, La Verle (1994) reports that the percentage of the general population considered Christian rose sharply to 62 percent, according to a 1985 estimate. These figures are consistent with what Meyer (1995) writes about Ghana. He states, "in Ghana, at least in the Central and Southern regions, Christianity reigns supreme." Alongside the historical Churches (the traditional denominations), there are a great number of "spiritual" and "Pentecostal" churches in the country (see e.g., Pobee 1991; Yirenkyi 1999).