What Does 6.5 Mean?

This Blog is titled Six-and-a-half because on average, people in developing countries attain only 6.5 years of education – equivalent to about an elementary school diploma. This is a strikingly low number, especially once we recognize that people in high-income countries complete 12 or more years of education, on average.

In most nations around the world, children start school at age six. This means that the typical person in a developing country completed their education at the age of 12 or 13, and never set foot in a classroom since then.

The map below shows the average years of education of those who are 25 years and older, around the world. Residents of red countries have less than 7 years of education, on average. Average education is 7 to 9 years in pink countries, 9 to 12 years in yellow, and more than 12 years in green countries. As we can see, in the majority of nations, especially in developing countries, people on average have not even completed middle school.

(Source: Barro, Robert and Jong-Wha Lee, “A New Data Set of Educational Attainment in the World, 1950-2010.” Journal of Development Economics, vol. 104, pp.184-198.)

Countries with low levels of education face significant challenges. They are poorer in comparison to those with higher levels of education. Their workers are less productive. Low-education countries typically have dysfunctional democracies. Their citizens are less healthy. The economic and social obstacles faced by women in these countries are higher. Their citizens are less healthy. Children in low-education countries are more likely to die in infancy, and the life expectancy is shorter compared to countries with higher levels of educational attainment.

There are, of course, low-educated people who live in high-income countries. These individuals too face the same difficulties as those who live in poor countries: For example, they have lower incomes and poorer health.

Education is a major component of Human Capital. As defined by economists, Human Capital is the productive capacity (quality) of individuals. People’s human capital is enhanced by improvements in such factors as health and education, and economic research has shown that education has a direct or indirect impact on many important economic, social and political outcomes.

This blog seeks to explore the role that education (and more generally, human capital) plays in improving human well-being. I will address questions such as: What happens to people’s earnings when their education goes up? What happens to a child’s health and learning ability when their mother’s education is increased? What determines the level of criminal activity and corruption in a society? Can education impact cultural values of a society? Can education impact racism? What motivates politician behavior? Do people’s beliefs change as their education level goes up? How does culture influence economic outcomes? Why is it that in some countries women don’t participate in the labor market? Do economies perform better when women become leaders? Do poor institutions in a country motivate people to be dishonest?

The blog is created in response to requests from friends who pointed out that while there are many outlets that focus on macroeconomic issues, there exists only a handful of blogs that discuss the economics behind the behavior of individuals, households and firms. I hope that the issues that will be discussed here will provide useful information and spark interest in these topics.

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