NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
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Intergenerational Mobility in Africa

Alberto Alesina, Sebastian Hohmann, Stelios Michalopoulos, Elias Papaioannou

NBER Working Paper No. 25534
Issued in February 2019, Revised in August 2020
NBER Program(s):Political Economy

We examine intergenerational mobility (IM) in educational attainment in Africa since independence using census data. First, we map IM across 27 countries and more than 2,800 regions, documenting wide cross-country and especially within-country heterogeneity. Inertia looms large as differences in the literacy of the old generation explain about half of the observed spatial disparities in IM. The rural-urban divide is substantial. Though conspicuous in some countries, there is no evidence of systematic gender gaps in IM. Second, we characterize the geography of IM, finding that colonial investments in railroads and Christian missions, as well as proximity to capitals and the coastline are the strongest correlates. Third, we ask whether the regional differences in mobility reflect spatial sorting or their independent role. To isolate the two, we focus on children whose families moved when they were young. Comparing siblings, looking at moves triggered by displacement shocks, and using historical migrations to predict moving-families' destinations, we establish that, while selection is considerable, regional exposure effects are at play. An extra year spent in a high-mobility region before the age of 12 (and after 5) significantly raises the likelihood for children of uneducated parents to complete primary school. Overall, the evidence suggests that geographic and historical factors laid the seeds for spatial disparities in IM that are cemented by sorting and the independent impact of regions.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w25534

 
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