Arnold Kling

Education and Growth

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Ideas and Growth... Entitlement Arithmetic...

Alison Wolf challenges the conventional wisdom.


large international studies often find a negative relationship between education and growth rates.

Egypt is a classic example of this. Between 1970 and 1998, its primary school enrollment rates grew to over 90%, secondary schooling soared from 32% to 75%, and university education doubled. Egypt started the period as the world's 47th poorest country; it ended the period as the 48th poorest.

For Discussion. Wolf argues that number of students educated is not the right measure of education. What would be a better measure?


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TRACKBACKS (3 to date)
TrackBack URL: http://econlog.econlib.org/mt/mt-tb.cgi/124
The author at BUFFALOg in a related article titled More Education = More Growth? writes:
    Education for education's sake doesn't cut it. It's almost too obvious to say that there can be good education and bad. But even in beautiful well-staffed high schools and colleges, poorly designed curricula and badly trained teachers won't produce t... [Tracked on September 20, 2004 6:58 PM]
COMMENTS (16 to date)
Lawrance George Lux writes:

How soon they can slow down the Birth rate, so all of social capital does not fall upon the construction of educational facilities. One has to consider how sheer Population growth skewed his data on advancement with Education. lgl

Lawrance George Lux writes:

Excuse previous mistake: her data. I basically agree there are limits--human--to intellectual attainment, and that We need to maintain a Blue Collar workforce. The trouble comes in the need to separate the laborer from the dangerous workplace, which requires a vast number of even common labor to retreat to the computer console. lgl

shamus writes:

Egypt is a police state that discourages capital formation and free enterprise. Education alone isn't enough to solve those problems.

Giles writes:

You also need to be aware of the context in which she is writing - namely the British government's desire to double university enrollment over the next 10 years. The downside has and will be a large drop in standards.

Randy Peterson writes:

How about measuring degrees given in engineering, business, science, and of course economics. Religious studies might not do much to jumpstart an economy.

Eli writes:

Education is designed to make students productive. It seems to me that a decent measure would be mean first-year salary following the final year of education.
-Eli

Boonton writes:

Diminishing returns people, why would education be different than any other form of capital? 1 new generator will add so much to poductivity, the next new generator that much less. The same with increasing Phd's.

spencer writes:

It probably would be more informative to look at the nature of the education system.

I have always believed that a big factor in the Taiwan and S. Korea growth story was the point that they were former Japanese colonies and the adult population during their growth spurt had been educated under the Japanese education system.

But to make a big deal of Egypt going from 47th to 48th poorest is really trying to make the data say something that the data is not good enough to support. That is well within the margin of error.

Dave Schuler writes:

It's not really possible to make cross-cultural comparisons of educational systems. There's no such thing as consistent objectives, standards, or measures of performance. Heck, we don't even have those things in the United States.

In addition there's the problem of costs built in to certain cultures. A kid from an Arabic-speaking or Chinese-speaking country with 8 years of education has the equivalent education of a kid from a Spanish-speaking country with 4 years of education. This is not prejudice. This is due to the difficulties of language and orthography. Look up "diglossia".

And, of course, there's the question of 90% of what? People within age cohorts? Males? Aristocratic males?

lan writes:

The increas in Egypt or some other country'education is a perfect evidence of world industry'shift to so-called knowledge economy. Because of the IT revolution, a single worker is now requiring more and more skills and knowledge to satisfy his work. So more education come to workers. If one country wants to exist in the knowlwdge-requiring society, it must contribute a lot on its education. Egypt follow this way,so does America,and other countries.The loss in Egypt only show the fact that Egypt spend less in education than other countries.

Tom Kaminski writes:

The case of Egypt is helpful, for it points out that education, though probably necessary for sustained economic growth, is not sufficient. If a society lacks open markets and the rule of law, an educated citizenry will not on its own create economic growth; the essential conditions are not there. tk

Giles writes:

Education is not even a necessary condition - especially in the "modern" world. For instance, how many people that you know that work in IT or programming and make good money either learnt about IT in uni, or even went to uni?

The real question is whether learning on the job is better or worse than learning in the lecture hall and too a large extent views on that are culturally dependent.

A good example would be presidents/premier's. Its a long time since the US has had a president that was not uni educated; by contrast countries like Australia and the UK have frequently had “university of life graduates” such as Major and Keating as premiers. This may be coincidence but it may also reflect the relative ability to screen in different countries.

Boonton writes:

The point of technology, though, is to decrease skills required for a particular job, not increase them. For example, Frontpage allowed people with limited HTML skills to produce web pages. Blogging software took it a step further by allowing people without the skills to use even Frontpage to publish blogs.

beingtrue writes:

education is something,but not everything

Victor writes:

I was under the impression that much of Egyptian "education" is memorizing the Koran and studying the wickedness of all non-Muslim peoples, especially those living just on the other side of Sinai. Such education is oblique to the intellectual needs of a modern economy.

jaime klein writes:

Egyptian higher education prepares the student to become a civil servant, and in fact, guarantees a civil service position. Economic development is about people making new things and services, and selling it.

Another aspect is that while people is educating themselves (and frequently, others), they are unproductive.

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