Children

Getting girlhood right

Girls are doing better than ever. Don’t let the pandemic stymie them

FOR MUCH of human history and in many places, girls were considered property. Or, at best, subordinate people, required to obey their fathers until the day they had to start obeying their husbands. Few people thought it worthwhile to educate them. Even fewer imagined that a girl could grow up to govern Germany, run the IMF or invent a vaccine.

In most of the world that vision of girlhood now seems not merely old-fashioned but unimaginably remote. In much of the rich world parents now treat their daughters as well as they do their sons, and invest as much in their future. In field after field girls have caught up with boys. Globally, young women now outnumber young men at university. The speed of change has been blistering. Fifty years ago only 49% of primary-school-age girls in lower-middle-income countries were in school, compared with 71% of boys; today the share of both is about 90%. In 1998 only half the world’s secondary-school-age girls were enrolled; today two-thirds are. Over the same period rates of illiteracy fell from one in five young women aged 15-24 to one in ten, bringing them roughly on a par with young men.

Girl babies are more wanted than ever before. Parents in some countries prefer them. Even in places, such as China, where the sex-selective abortion of girl fetuses has been rife,…