Sanitation and Education

Case Studies & Research
59 p.

One in five children worldwide does not complete upper-primary school, with particularly high drop-out rates among pubescent-age girls that may limit economic opportunities and perpetuate gender inequality. This paper tests whether educational attainment is stymied by endemically inadequate school sanitation that threatens children's health, privacy, and safety. Using annual school-level data from India, disaggregated by student sex and grade, I compare schools that receive latrines during a national school-latrine construction initiative to similar schools using a differences-in-differences empirical methodology. I estimate that latrine construction increases enrollment of all students. At younger ages, girls and boys both benefit substantially from a latrine, regardless of whether it is unisex or sex-specific; at older ages, however, separate latrines become crucial. Pubescent-age girls do not benefit from unisex latrines, and their enrollment increases substantially after the construction of a female-only latrine. These effects persist at least three years after construction, in contrast to the impact of many educational interventions that fade over time. Investments in school sanitation support education of pubescent-age girls, yet the narrow focus on menstruation should be expanded to reflect the importance of health, safety, and privacy for pubescent-age boys and younger children as well.

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