Intergenerational Mobility in Africa


Alberto Alesina, Sebastian Hohmann, Stelios Michalopoulos Elias Papaioannou{. 2020. “Intergenerational Mobility in Africa.” Econometrica.


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.