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Why does academic achievement vary across countries? Evidence from Cuba and Mexico


  • Patrick Mcewan
  • Jeffery Marshall


International assessments of academic achievement are common. They are usually accompanied by attempts to infer the determinants of cross-country achievement gaps, but these inferences have little empirical foundation. This paper applies the Blinder-Oaxaca decomposition to the problem of explaining why primary students in Cuban schools score than Mexican students, on average, 1.3 standard deviations higher. The results suggest that no more than 30% of the difference can be explained by differing endowments of family, peer, and school variables. Of these, peer-group variables and, to a lesser extent, family variables explain the largest portion of the gap.

Suggested Citation

  • Patrick Mcewan & Jeffery Marshall, 2004. "Why does academic achievement vary across countries? Evidence from Cuba and Mexico," Education Economics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 12(3), pages 205-217.
  • Handle: RePEc:taf:edecon:v:12:y:2004:i:3:p:205-217
    DOI: 10.1080/0964529042000258572

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    1. Cathles, Alison & Ou, Dongshu & Sasso, Simone & Setrana, Mary & van Veen, Tom, 2021. "Where do you come from, where do you go? Assessing skills gaps and labour market outcomes for young adults with different immigration backgrounds," International Journal of Educational Development, Elsevier, vol. 86(C).
    2. Bookwalter, Jeffrey & Fitch-Fleischmann, Benjamin & Dalenberg, Douglas, 2011. "Understanding life-satisfaction changes in post-apartheid South Africa," MPRA Paper 34579, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    3. Kitae Sohn, 2012. "A New Insight Into The Gender Gap In Math," Bulletin of Economic Research, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 64(1), pages 135-155, January.
    4. Luis Rene Caceres, 2023. "Fiscal Policy, Quality of Education, and Economic Growth in the Dominican Republic," International Journal of Economics and Finance, Canadian Center of Science and Education, vol. 15(10), pages 1-57, October.
    5. Fortin, Nicole & Lemieux, Thomas & Firpo, Sergio, 2011. "Decomposition Methods in Economics," Handbook of Labor Economics, in: O. Ashenfelter & D. Card (ed.), Handbook of Labor Economics, edition 1, volume 4, chapter 1, pages 1-102, Elsevier.
    6. Botezat Alina, 2012. "Decomposing The Gap In School Achievement Between Finland And Romania '" Some Methodological Aspects," Annals of Faculty of Economics, University of Oradea, Faculty of Economics, vol. 1(2), pages 165-171, December.
    7. Sakellariou, Chris, 2012. "Decomposing the increase in TIMSS Scores in Ghana : 2003-2007," Policy Research Working Paper Series 6084, The World Bank.
    8. Castro, Juan F. & Rolleston, Caine, 2018. "The contribution of early childhood and schools to cognitive gaps: New evidence from Peru," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 64(C), pages 144-164.
    9. Yunfan Yang & Huan Wang & Linxiu Zhang & Sean Sylvia & Renfu Luo & Yaojiang Shi & Wei Wang & Scott Rozelle, 2015. "The Han-Minority Achievement Gap, Language, and Returns to Schools in Rural China," Economic Development and Cultural Change, University of Chicago Press, vol. 63(2), pages 319-359.
    10. Onil Boussim, 2023. "Testing and correcting sample selection in academic achievement comparisons," Papers 2309.10642,, revised Oct 2023.
    11. Darya Dancaková & Jozef Glova & Alena Andrejovská, 2021. "The Robust Efficiency Estimation in Lower Secondary Education: Cross-Country Evidence," Mathematics, MDPI, vol. 9(24), pages 1-15, December.
    12. Perera, Liyanage Devangi H. & Asadullah, M. Niaz, 2019. "Mind the gap: What explains Malaysia’s underperformance in Pisa?," International Journal of Educational Development, Elsevier, vol. 65(C), pages 254-263.
    13. Dilmaghani, Maryam, 2021. "The gender gap in competitive chess across countries: Commanding queens in command economies," Journal of Comparative Economics, Elsevier, vol. 49(2), pages 425-441.
    14. Kitae Sohn, 2012. "The dynamics of the evolution of the Black--White test score gap," Education Economics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 20(2), pages 175-188, April.
    15. Emiliana Vegas & Ilana Umansky, 2005. "Improving Teaching and Learning through Effective Incentives : What Can We Learn from Education Reforms in Latin America?," World Bank Publications - Reports 8694, The World Bank Group.
    16. Alina Botezat & Ruben R. Seiberlich, 2013. "Educational performance gaps in Eastern Europe," The Economics of Transition, The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, vol. 21(4), pages 731-756, October.
    17. Marenya, Paswel & Kassie, Menale & Jaleta, Moti & Rahut, Dil Bahadur, 2015. "Does gender of the household head explain smallholder farmers' maize market positions? Evidence from Ethiopia," 2015 Conference, August 9-14, 2015, Milan, Italy 212229, International Association of Agricultural Economists.
    18. Amini, Chiara & Nivorozhkin, Eugene, 2015. "The urban–rural divide in educational outcomes: Evidence from Russia," International Journal of Educational Development, Elsevier, vol. 44(C), pages 118-133.

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