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Schooling, Cognitive Skills, and the Latin American Growth Puzzle


  • Eric A. Hanushek
  • Ludger Woessmann


Economic development in Latin America has trailed most other world regions over the past four decades despite its relatively high initial development and school attainment levels. This puzzle can be resolved by considering the actual learning as expressed in tests of cognitive skills, on which Latin American countries consistently perform at the bottom. In growth models estimated across world regions, these low levels of cognitive skills can account for the poor growth performance of Latin America. Given the limitations of worldwide tests in discriminating performance at low levels, we also introduce measures from two regional tests designed to measure performance for all Latin American countries with internationally comparable income data. Our growth analysis using these data confirms the significant effects of cognitive skills on intra-regional variations. Splicing the new regional tests into the worldwide tests, we also confirm this effect in extended worldwide regressions, although it appears somewhat smaller in the regional Latin American data than in the worldwide data.

Suggested Citation

  • Eric A. Hanushek & Ludger Woessmann, 2009. "Schooling, Cognitive Skills, and the Latin American Growth Puzzle," NBER Working Papers 15066, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:15066
    Note: ED EFG LS PE

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Peter H. Lindert, 2009. "Revealing Failures in the History of School Finance," NBER Working Papers 15491, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. Prados de la Escosura, Leandro, 2013. "Human development in Africa: A long-run perspective," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 50(2), pages 179-204.
    3. Arlette F. Beltrán & Janice N. Seinfeld, 2011. "Hacia una educación de calidad en el Perú : el heterogéneo impacto de la educación inicial sobre el rendimiento escolar," Working Papers 11-06, Centro de Investigación, Universidad del Pacífico.
    4. Hanushek, Eric A. & Woessmann, Ludger, 2012. "Schooling, educational achievement, and the Latin American growth puzzle," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 99(2), pages 497-512.
    5. Felipe Barrera-Osorio & Dario Maldonado & Catherine Rodríguez, 2012. "Calidad de la educación básica y media en Colombia: diagnóstico y propuestas," DOCUMENTOS DE TRABAJO 010078, UNIVERSIDAD DEL ROSARIO.
    6. Christian Daude, 2012. "Development Accounting: Lessons for Latin America," OECD Development Centre Working Papers 313, OECD Publishing.
    7. Metzler, Johannes & Woessmann, Ludger, 2012. "The impact of teacher subject knowledge on student achievement: Evidence from within-teacher within-student variation," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 99(2), pages 486-496.
    8. Harinder Kohli & Claudio Loser & Anil Sood (ed.), 2013. "Latin America 2040 — Breaking Away from Complacency: An Agenda for Resurgence — Second Edition," Books, Emerging Markets Forum, edition 2, number latam2040v2, August.
    9. Bagatella-Flores, N. & Rodríguez-Achach, M. & Coronel-Brizio, H.F. & Hernández-Montoya, A.R., 2015. "Wealth distribution of simple exchange models coupled with extremal dynamics," Physica A: Statistical Mechanics and its Applications, Elsevier, vol. 417(C), pages 168-175.
    10. Juan F. Castro & Gustavo Yamada & Omar Arias, 2011. "Higher education decisions in Peru : on the role of financial constraints, skills, and family background," Working Papers 11-14, Centro de Investigación, Universidad del Pacífico.
    11. Angrist, Noam & Patrinos, Harry Anthony & Schlotter, Martin, 2013. "An expansion of a global data set on educational quality : a focus on achievement in developing countries," Policy Research Working Paper Series 6536, The World Bank.
    12. Prakhov Ilya, 2012. "The unified state examination and the determinants of academic achievement: Does investment in pre-entry coaching matter?," EERC Working Paper Series 12/08e, EERC Research Network, Russia and CIS.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • H4 - Public Economics - - Publicly Provided Goods
    • I2 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education
    • O4 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Growth and Aggregate Productivity
    • N16 - Economic History - - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics; Industrial Structure; Growth; Fluctuations - - - Latin America; Caribbean

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