Book Project

The Religious Roots of Inequality in Africa

Muslims in sub-Saharan Africa have far lower levels of education than Christians. More than half of Muslim adults have never attended any formal schooling. What are the origins of the Muslim-Christian education gap in Africa? What explains variation in its magnitude and persistence over time? I argue that the origins of this education gap lie in association between formal education and Christianity, as well as the low exposure of predominantly Muslim areas to competition with Christian missionaries. This gap has persisted despite the end of colonial rule, declining influence of Christian missionaries, democratization, and implementation of policies designed to reduce educational inequalities. I find that the Muslim-Christian education gap remains particularly pronounced in predominantly Muslim areas, and argue that the persistence of inequality is only in part a function of resource constraints. Evidence from the case of Malawi suggests that in addition to resource constraints, a combination of a lack of norms about the primacy of formal education and the relatively greater influence of peer effects on school attendance in areas of poverty and low parental education levels also contribute to the persistence of educational inequality. Finally, I suggest that persistently low educational attainment signal a lack of demand for schooling among constituents, such that politicians choose to invest less effort in education, exacerbating educational resource constraints in these areas.