Education and labour market outcomes in Sub-Saharan West Africa

Education and labour market outcomes in Sub-Saharan West Africa

Increased primary education is associated with higher unemployment in West Africa

Does primary education really help to guard against unemployment and poverty? Perhaps not, this paper argues. Using a statistical analysis, this study analyses the effects of education on urban labour market participation and earnings in seven major West African cities of Abidjan, Bamako, Cotonou, Dakar, Lome, Niamey and Ouagadougou.

The most significant finding to emerge from the analysis is that the relationship between education and increased earnings is not linear. Rather, earnings remain constant until the eighth year of education, then increase sharply after the twelfth year when students move from secondary to higher education. The authors argue that this finding challenges the rationale for promoting primary education as an effective instrument to fight against poverty, which is based partly on the notion that education is more profitable for the first years of schooling. In fact, this paper suggests, stimulating access to primary education is only effective in reducing individuals’ poverty if the individuals concerned can continue to higher education.

A second important finding of the study is that education has significant effects on individual earnings in the informal sectors of the cities studied, even at high levels of schooling. Other findings include:

  • people with vocational training were more likely to work in the formal sector than those with some general education, but in all but one of the cities studied, no more than two per cent had undertaken vocational education
  • in measuring the returns from education, failure to control for the endogeneity of education can bias results
  • incorporating a measure for social background the analysis reveals the possible operation of social capital, or networks, in the employment market in the cities studied.