Book Project

Culture and Mass Schooling: The Colonial Roots of Educational Inequality in Africa

Education is central to politics, economic growth, and human well-being. Yet there are large gaps in levels of education across groups, and these gaps often persist for generations. Why? I argue that culture – specifically, community norms about schooling – plays a central role in explaining the persistence of schooling gaps across groups. I argue that norms about school attendance develop within and vary across communities depending on the extent of exposure to mass schooling historically, and whether this schooling is associated with a particular type of identity. Strong community norms about educational attainment promote and sustain high rates of schooling. These norms can complement and amplify economic and structural advantages as well as offset economic barriers to schooling. Norms may be especially important in explaining schooling behavior in the absence of top-down enforcement of school attendance.

I develop this argument using the case of the Muslim-Christian schooling gap in Africa. Compared to Christians, Muslims across sub-Saharan Africa have fewer years of education, are less likely to be literate, and their children are less likely to be in school. On average, Muslims have three fewer years of education than Christians. This gap has persisted over the past six decades, even in Africa’s most vibrant economies and stable democracies, often long after the removal of school fees. Further, the Muslim-Christian schooling gap is largest and Muslim schooling lowest where Muslims are a majority. This book employs a mixed-methods strategy to identify the historical institutions that led to the Muslim-Christian schooling gap and develop a cultural theory for why it persists.

Related work:

%d bloggers like this: