WP54: Democracy and primary school attendance: Aggregate and individual level evidence from Africa


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Working papers
Stasavage, David

It has been argued that democratically elected governments may have greater incentives than their authoritarian counterparts to provide primary education for their citizens. It has also been argued that primary education may, in turn, reinforce democracy by prompting individuals to adopt more democratic attitudes.

This paper uses both aggregate and individual level data to examine whether there is evidence for either of these two effects in African countries. I find strong indications of a causal link running from democracy to greater primary education provision. This is observable at the aggregate level, when considering attendance rates, as well as at the micro level, where there is a clear correlation between individual evaluations of African presidential performance and regional variations in growth rates for primary school attendance. In contrast, there is less indication that primary education causes democracy by generating sizeable shifts in "democratic attitudes". While individuals with a primary education on average are more likely to support democracy, the substantive magnitude of this effect appears to be small. Based on this evidence, differences in education levels between African countries appear to explain relatively little of the cross-country variation we observe in support for democracy as a form of government.