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The Long-Term Effects of Universal Primary Education: Evidence from Ethiopia, Malawi, and Uganda

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Universal primary education, natural experiment, instrumental variables, educational attainment, gender gap, sexual and reproductive health, labor supply

This paper exploits the roll out of universal primary education (UPE) policies in Ethiopia, Malawi, and Uganda as natural experiments to assess their long-term causal effects on schooling attainment, adolescent sexual and reproductive health behavior, and economic outcomes. We use data from the Living Standards Measurement Survey (LSMS) and Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) to exploit plausibly exogenous variation in UPE eligibility as determined by individuals’ year of birth. Using the UPE rollout as an exogenous shock, we implement an instrumental variables (IV) design to identify the effect of primary education expansion on schooling completion and the consequent long-term effects on adolescent behavior, adult labor force participation, and socioeconomic status. Our findings confirm that the UPE policies were effective in increasing educational attainment in all three countries, while narrowing the pre-existing gender attainment gap. Additionally, we show that UPE is also successful in lowering the rates at which adolescents engage in sexual behavior, child birth, and marriage/cohabitation. However, in terms of labor market outcomes we find that the effects of schooling increases are moderate at best in improving employment, salaried employment, and poverty status among the affected populations.

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