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Social Mobility and Colonial Legacy in Five African Countries


  • Thomas Bossuroy

    () (EHESS, DIAL, IRD, Paris)

  • Denis Cogneau

    () (DIAL, IRD, Paris)


How fluid are African societies? This paper uses wide-sample nationally representative surveys to set down the first comparative measurement of the extent and features of the social mobility of men in five countries of Sub-Saharan Africa. Intergenerational as well as intra-generational mobility between the farm and non-farm sectors are examined, and are linked to migration patterns on the one hand, educational development and mobility on the other hand. Two former British colonies, Ghana and Uganda, stand out with the highest level of social fluidity. Two former French Western colonies, Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea, come next. Last, Madagascar exhibits specifically large and sustained inequalities of opportunity. Comparisons between countries reveal how occupational mobility is linked to spatial and educational mobility. In the former French colonies, these latter forms of mobility are much selective on the origin variables, and appear as pre-requisites for the access to non-agricultural jobs. In the former British colonies, the links between origin, migration, education and occupational achievement appear much looser. Historical evidence suggests that these different structures are the product of policies and investments implemented differently by the two former colonial powers. This article thus presents original evidence on social mobility in Africa and highlights how institutions and policies shape it. _________________________________ Quel est le degré de fluidité des sociétés africaines ? Cet article mobilise des enquêtes nationalement représentatives à larges échantillons pour établir une première mesure comparative du niveau et des caractéristiques de la mobilité sociale des hommes dans cinq pays d'Afrique Sub-Saharienne. Les mobilités intergénérationnelle ainsi qu'intra-générationnelle entre les secteurs agricole et non-agricole sont examinés, et mis en relation avec les caractéristiques de la migration d'une part, avec le développement de l'éducation et la mobilité scolaire intergénérationnelle d'autre part. Deux anciennes colonies britanniques, le Ghana et l'Ouganda, ressortent avec le plus haut degré de fluidité sociale. Deux anciennes colonies françaises d'Afrique de l'Ouest, la Côte d'Ivoire et la Guinée, viennent ensuite. Enfin, Madagascar montre une inégalité des chances particulièrement élevée et durable. Les comparaisons entre pays révèlent que la mobilité professionnelle est liée à la mobilité spatiale et à la mobilité scolaire. Dans les anciennes colonies françaises, ces deux dernières formes de mobilité sont plus sélectives en fonction des variables d'origine sociale, et apparaissent comme des préconditions pour l'accès aux professions non-agricoles. Dans les anciennes colonies britanniques, les liens entre origine sociale, migration, éducation et destination professionnelle apparaissent beaucoup plus lâches. L'analyse historique suggère que ces structures différentes sont les produits de politiques et d'investissements mis en oeuvre de façon différente par les deux puissances coloniales. Cet article présente ainsi une série de faits originaux sur la mobilité sociale en Afrique et met en lumière comment les institutions et les politiques lui confèrent ses formes.

Suggested Citation

  • Thomas Bossuroy & Denis Cogneau, 2008. "Social Mobility and Colonial Legacy in Five African Countries," Working Papers DT/2008/10, DIAL (Développement, Institutions et Mondialisation).
  • Handle: RePEc:dia:wpaper:dt200810

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    Cited by:

    1. Thomas Bossuroy, 2011. "Ethnicity and Election Outcomes in Ghana," Working Papers DT/2011/05, DIAL (Développement, Institutions et Mondialisation).
    2. Denis Cogneau & Léa Rouanet, 2009. "Living Conditions in Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana and Western Africa 1925-1985: What Do Survey Data on Height Stature Tell Us?," Working Papers DT/2009/12, DIAL (Développement, Institutions et Mondialisation).
    3. Thomas Bossuroy, 2011. "Individual Determinants of Ethnic Identification," Working Papers DT/2011/06, DIAL (Développement, Institutions et Mondialisation).
    4. Gaston Yalonetzky, 2010. "A Dissimilarity Index of Multidimensional Inequality of Opportunity (Revised and Updated)," OPHI Working Papers 39, Queen Elizabeth House, University of Oxford.
    5. Denis COGNEAU, 2012. "The Political Dimension Of Inequality During Economic Development," Region et Developpement, Region et Developpement, LEAD, Universite du Sud - Toulon Var, vol. 35, pages 11-36.
    6. Kodila-Tedika, Oasis, 2013. "Esclavagisme et colonisation : Quelles conséquences contemporaines en Afrique ? - Résumé critique des travaux de l'économiste Nathan Nunn [Slavery and colonization: What contemporary consequences i," MPRA Paper 43732, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    7. Frank-Borge Wietzke, 2014. "Historical Origins of Uneven Service Supply in Sub-Saharan Africa. The Role of Non-State Providers," Journal of Development Studies, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 50(12), pages 1614-1630, December.
    8. Thomas Bossuroy, 2011. "Ethnic Solidarity and the Individual Determinants of Ethnic Identification," SALDRU Working Papers 69, Southern Africa Labour and Development Research Unit, University of Cape Town.

    More about this item


    Social Mobility; Education; Intergenerational Transmission; Colonization; Dualism; Africa; Mobilité sociale; éducation; transmission intergénérationnelle; colonisation; dualisme; Afrique.;

    JEL classification:

    • J62 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Mobility, Unemployment, Vacancies, and Immigrant Workers - - - Job, Occupational and Intergenerational Mobility; Promotion
    • N37 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy - - - Africa; Oceania
    • O15 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Economic Development: Human Resources; Human Development; Income Distribution; Migration

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