DP14150 The Great Convergence. Skill Accumulation and Mass Education in Africa and Asia, 1870-2010

Author(s): Ewout Frankema, Marlous Van Waijenburg
Publication Date: November 2019
Date Revised: November 2019
Keyword(s): Africa, Asia, History, mass education, skill premium
JEL(s): J24, J31, N30
Programme Areas: Development Economics, Economic History
Link to this Page: cepr.org/active/publications/discussion_papers/dp.php?dpno=14150

While human capital has gained prominence in new vintages of growth theory, economists have struggled to find the positive externalities of mass education in developing economies. We shed new light on the economic significance of the global 'schooling revolution' by looking at a different indicator of human capital accumulation - the relative price of skilled labor -, and placing it in a long-term global perspective. Based on a new wage dataset we constructed for various blue- and white-collar occupations in 50 African and Asian countries between 1870-2010, we reveal that skill-premiums have fallen dramatically everywhere in the course of the 20th century, and that they have now converged with levels that dominated in the West already for centuries. While such a 'great convergence' in skill-premiums is not a sufficient condition for Schumpeterian growth by itself, the growing availability of affordable skills is a necessary condition. Our findings, therefore, shed a more optimistic light on the long-term economic gains of mass education in the global South than standard growth regressions have hitherto done.