Q4 – Girls’ schooling in low-income countries

This question was asked to the public in Sweden, Norway, Finland, Denmark and the UK in the Sustainable Development Misconception Study 2020

In December 2020 Gapminder launches a brand new service for upgrading your worldview, where you will be able to take this (and many other) tests and become certified gapm.io/upgrader


In low-income countries across the world, what share of girls went to school until at least age 11 (before the pandemic)?

a) Around 20%

b) Around 40%

c) Around 60%

Correct answer

Around 60% of young girls in low-income countries go to school.

People’s views are stuck decades in the past

Many people wrongly think a minority of girls in low-income countries go to school, probably because they know there are still huge gender inequalities in the world and they don’t want to trivialize them. Of 195 countries, today only 29 are low-income and only 11 still have big gender inequalities in primary education: Afghanistan, Guinea, South Sudan, Central African Republic, Guinea-Bissau, Yemen, Chad, Niger, Eritrea, Mozambique and Somalia. 

Forty years ago in low-income countries, many more boys finished primary school than girls. Today, in most countries, it is almost equal. When they do miss school, it’s mainly because their families are extremely poor, and then the boys are also missing school.

After girls reach puberty though, they do drop out of school more than boys in most low-income countries, partly because of bad school toilets. Schools in middle-income countries are better prepared for female students. When measuring school results, pretty much everywhere, girls outperform boys all the way up to higher education. 

The corona pandemic resulted in more than 90% of countries globally closing schools at some point during 2020. How many girls (and boys) who might not return to school when they reopen, is still unknown. 

Data sources

The share of girls finishing primary school was 63% in 2019[1], but we rounded it to 60% to avoid overstating progress. The definition of “low-income countries” is not mentioned in the question to make it short. Based on our knowledge surveys we know that people generally overestimate how many countries belong in that group, but such a misunderstanding wouldn’t make the wrong answers more possible. Actually the opposite, because the middle-income countries that many people believe are low-income countries have an average of 94% girls completing primary education.

The data measures the gross intake ratio to the last grade of primary education, which is the number of new entrants (enrollments minus repeaters) in the last grade of primary education, regardless of age and divided by the population at the entrance age for the last grade of primary education, which is roughly at age 11, but differs across countries.


Source 1 – Female primary completion rate, UIS, UNESCO Institute for Statistics via World Bank

Source 2 – Standard ages for starting Secondary School in different countries

Source 3 – World Bank classification of low-income countries