Discussion paper

DP11273 The Evolution of Human Capital in Africa, 1730 – 1970: A Colonial Legacy?

How did colonialism interact with the development of human capital in Africa? We create an innovative panel dataset on numeracy across African countries before, during and after the Scramble for Africa (1730 – 1970) by drawing on new sources and by carefully assessing potential selection bias. The econometric evidence that we provide, based on OLS, 2SLS and Propensity Score Matching, shows that colonialism had very diverse effects on human capital depending on the education policy of the colonizer. Although the average marginal impact of colonialism on the growth of numeracy was positive, the premium that we find was driven by the British educational system. Especially after 1900, the strategies chosen by the British were associated with faster human-capital accumulation, while other colonies were characterized by a negative premium on the growth of education. We connect this finding to the reliance of British education policy on mission schools, which used local languages and the human capital of local teachers to expand schooling in the colonies. We also show that this, in turn, had long-lasting effects on economic growth, which persist to the present day.


Baten, J and G Cappelli (2016), ‘DP11273 The Evolution of Human Capital in Africa, 1730 – 1970: A Colonial Legacy?‘, CEPR Discussion Paper No. 11273. CEPR Press, Paris & London. https://cepr.org/publications/dp11273