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Educational Policy Studies News

New Yorker publishes essay on ‘ghost statistic’ from UW-Madison’s Moeller

January 28, 2019

An essay from UW-Madison’s Kathryn Moeller that examines one of the most powerful statistics on girls and women in the world — and how it creates racialized stories and distorted development interventions — was published by The New Yorker earlier this month.

Moeller is an assistant professor with the School of Education’s Department of Educational Policy Studies and the author of the 2018 book, “The Gender Effect: Capitalism, Feminism, and the Corporate Politics of Development.”

Kathryn Moeller
Moeller begins by writing: “At the World Economic Forum, in Davos, Switzerland, in 2012, the Times columnist Nicholas Kristof asked Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg if the world would look different with greater investments in girls and women. Sandberg, who was already famous for her ‘lean in’ philosophy, said that the world would indeed look different. She explained, ‘The data is pretty clear that women spend 90 percent of their income on their children. And men, I think it’s more like 40 percent.’ She turned to the former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, then the executive director of U.N. Women, who corrected her estimation. Sandberg clarified: men spend ‘30 to 40 percent.’ ”

Moeller continues: “Over the years, I came across this statistic, again and again, on the Web sites and in the policy documents of the most powerful global development organizations, including the World Bank and United Nations agencies. It is often cited as the key piece of evidence that investing in poor girls and women in Asia, Africa, and Latin America creates a high rate of return. They will supposedly marry later and delay childbearing, and, in doing so, generate economic development, limit population growth, educate their children, improve children’s and women’s health, conserve environmental resources, and control the spread of H.I.V. They will end the so-called cycle of poverty in which individuals, families, communities, and nations get caught.”

Moeller explains how she wondered if such a statistic could really be true and began searching for its origin.

To learn what Moeller found — or didn’t find — and to get some thoughts on what this might all mean, check out the entire essay for free on this New Yorker web page.

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