Educational Opportunities, or Lack Thereof, Across the Globe

You never want to make too much out of one poll, and the sample size for individual countries are pretty small in this one, but still, I was struck by some of the results in this international poll of 11 and 12 year-olds, feature in this AM'sKidsPost (frequent breakfast reading in our house). Particularly notable are what the kids from different countries said about the importance of education.

Economists trying to understand the factors behind rising inequality in advanced economies often argue about the role of education. I cover the debate here, citing numerous economists, including mainstreamers, who agree with the view I've had for years: educational differences are unable to explain recent trends in U.S. inequality, especially the historically high concentration of income at the very top of the scale.

This being a debate (and a town, ie DC) that doesn't do nuance, that view sometimes gets conflated with, "you don't care about education policy!" To the contrary, my inequality work has focused extensively on the lack of quality educational opportunities for kids in less advantaged families, based on the thesis that one of the most pernicious effects of higher inequality is the raising of ever-higher opportunity barriers.

But what do the kids themselves think about all this?

According to the poll, which asked kids about what was important to them, education ranked high in lots of categories, with interesting differences between advanced and developing economies. EG, from the WaPo's summary:

"What makes you feel safe and happy?" Overall, 56 percent of kids answered "being with family." But a majority of kids in such places as Mozambique, a country in southeast Africa, and Cambodia, a country in Southeast Asia, said education made them feel safe and happy. In the United States, only 2 percent of kids answered "education," while 4 percent of U.S. kids said their dog made them feel safe and happy.

Among all the developing countries, 25 percent of kids answered "education" to this question; in developed countries, 5 percent.

Obviously, kids here take education for granted, but I thought the extent to which children with fewer such opportunities themselves recognized its importance was notable.

Another notable response here: 'In war-torn Afghanistan, 27 percent of kids answered "peace" and "no more war."'

At any rate, access to decent education, starting with preschool, remains a significant challenge even here in wealthy America, and of course far more so in less developed countries. Many of the world's kids will apparently tell you so.

This post originally appeared at Jared Bernstein's On The Economy blog.