Educational expansion in Latin American countries: has educational attainment inequality narrowed?

Clarissa G. Rodrigues, Wittgenstein Centre (IIASA, VID/ÖAW, WU)
Rachel Durham, Wittgenstein Centre (IIASA, VID/ÖAW, WU), Vienna University of Economics and Business
Bilal Barakat, Vienna Institute of Demography

Over recent decades, countries in Latin America have made a great deal of progress with respect to educational expansion, with the primary aim of reducing educational inequality. However, equitable distribution of educational attainment in the population does not necessarily follow growth of educational opportunity. Overall reductions in inequality will depend upon the extent to which certain segments of the population benefit from increases in opportunity. In this paper, we explore whether educational policies aimed at educational expansion also had a strong impact on the reduction of inequality between groups, defined by mother’s education. We employ the IPUMS micro data census samples from the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s for five Latin American Countries: Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia and Venezuela. To measure change in inequality over time and across groups, we propose the use of Kullback-Leibler divergence. Then, differences between two distributions – reference and comparison – are synthesized via a single index. We use as reference the distribution of educational attainment among relatively advantaged students aged 8-20: those whose mothers who completed secondary education or more. This distribution is compared to: 1) the attainment distribution of those children aged 8-20 whose mothers completed primary only; 2) the attainment distribution of those children aged 8-20 whose mothers completed less than primary; and 3) the attainment distribution of those children aged 8-20 without information about mother’s education (e.g., orphans or those of extreme economic disadvantage). Our findings bring attention to a regular regional trend driven by a reduction of educational inequality over time in all countries considered, for both boys and girls, and especially for groups with the lowest levels of education. Country-specific policy-related reasons for changes in inequalities will be discussed.

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Presented in Session 42: Education and demography in developing countries