An historical analysis of the change in compulsory schooling laws in europe after the second world war

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Martina G. Viarengo December 29th, 2006

PhD Candidate in Economic History

London School of Economics and Political Science


1) Introduction
The expansion of compulsory schooling after the Second World War represented a very important policy change: a reform that can be considered among the first structural adjustments common to the majority of European countries. The increase in school-leaving age laid the basis for further educational expansion.

Specifically, over the period 1950-2000, 15 Western European countries extended the school-leaving age by one year or longer; mainly during the 25 years after the war. What is interesting is that the change in legislation was undertaken by countries with different traditions and experiences in educational policy such as Nordic, Anglo-Saxon and Continental countries. In fact, European countries were different and the war had a dissimilar impact on their economies. However, new equilibria at both national and international level led countries to undertake this policy change in education.

Many theories have been proposed in the sociology and political science literature to explain the expansion of education during this “period of extensive development of the educational and training system”.1 However, these important contributions have not explained the timing of the changes in school-leaving age laws. In the existing literature there are two kinds of analyses related to the expansion of education. On one hand, there are macroeconomic studies; these suffer from the limitation of not considering the role of institutions, thus lacking an historical contextualization of the policy changes. On the other hand, the country-level studies are too specific to allow any inference about how common factors may have influenced the way in which countries have shaped their education policy. Consequently, this topic has not been adequately studied so far.

What is missing in the existing literature is a comparative analysis of the education policies undertaken at European level. Comparative work by Diebolt and Fontevielle (2001) and Ringer (1979) represents a good start but is not sufficient to understand what were the factors, beyond the national boundaries, driving the expansion of compulsory schooling.

The question addressed here is: what were the driving forces behind the rise in compulsory schooling that took place in Europe after the Second World War? This is to say, how is it possible to explain the timing of the changes in school-leaving age laws that occurred in most European countries after the war? Why did some countries increase compulsory schooling before others?

I aim to contribute to the existing literature in two ways. First, I will adopt a comparative approach by undertaking a quantitative analysis using a new dataset constructed for a panel of 15 European countries over the period 1950-2000. The second intended contribution is methodological: I introduce the technique of duration analysis that has been recently used in political economy to study the determinants of specific policy changes.

The paper proceeds as follows. First, I review the origins and the main features of the compulsory schooling laws that characterized the European experience after the war. Then, I will analyse the main theories that scholars have proposed to explain the expansion of education and I will derive from these the hypotheses that I will test empirically. After, I will briefly describe the dataset I have constructed and I will explain the methodology for the quantitative analysis. Finally, I will provide comments on the results and concluding remarks.
2) Historical background
Following the definition provided by the OECD, compulsory schooling is “the span of years during which every normal child must be receiving a formal education”.2 Compulsory schooling was introduced in most Western countries between the second half of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century.3

Economic historians have been interested in the topic of formal education in order to understand how institutions can create the conditions to promote economic development and growth.4 Landes’ (1969) work has shown that cultural, social and educational factors were essential in determining the development of more advanced technologies. Therefore, one may wonder how important was education in the process of industrialization. Interestingly, compulsory schooling was introduced at a later stage of the industrialization process whereas basic human capital, measured in terms of literacy rates, was widespread even before the introduction of compulsory schooling as Cipolla (1969) has illustrated. Why was compulsory schooling not institutionalized before the nineteenth century and only after the beginning of the industrialization process in most European countries?

Mitch (1983) argued in his doctoral dissertation that an earlier introduction of compulsory schooling would have been socially desirable but not economically necessary as there was a lack of demand for educated workers. After 1840, the shift in demand was probably generated by the greater complexity of the productive activity and by the need of having a disciplined, responsible and industrious working class as Bourdieu and Passeron (1977) have claimed.

After this major economic and social change that created the common impetus for reform in Western Europe, education expanded by following national patterns and there was no other institutional response that was undertaken in the same epoch by European countries. Moreover, the economic depression that followed the Great War and the slow recovery during the interwar period imposed important constraints on Governmental expenditure for social services such as public education.

After 1945, with the end of the war things changed dramatically. Countries started experiencing unprecedented growth rates and the recovery was faster than what the more optimistic could have expected (Eichengreen [1996]). Moreover, the new economic and socio-political conditions created the pressure for Governments to modernize the schooling system. The expansion of compulsory schooling was one of the policy changes that took place in the majority of European countries after the war. It was probably not a policy change as revolutionary as the introduction of compulsory schooling towards the end of the nineteenth century, however it was of great importance. In fact, what happened was an institutional reconfiguration of the schooling system that was undertaken in countries that were very different from each other, with dissimilar economic conditions and different cultural and educational traditions.
3) Theoretical framework

Many theories have been proposed by sociologists and political scientists in order to explain the development and the expansion of the schooling institution. However, it is important to acknowledge the fact that there are country-specific determinants of the school-leaving age laws that cannot be observed by doing a cross-section analysis over time5 and that certainly have played an important role in leading to the passage of laws. On the other hand, it is also important to notice that the interest of the analysis relies on trying to explain what are the factors that have caused the concentration of the change in compulsory schooling in the postwar period by formulating hypotheses derived from the literatures that have covered this topic. In the following paragraphs I will analyse the main theories I have extracted from different literatures and during the presentation I will formulate the hypotheses I will use for the empirical analysis.

3.1) Technical-functional theory (modernisation)

Among the theories introduced in the literature, particularly important appears to be the “technical-functional theory”. According to this framework, the process of modernization that occurs in society creates the demand for a more educated labour force. In particular, technological advances and the greater complexity of the organization of production make a skill upgrading necessary. According to Collins (1971), this happens when the proportion of jobs requiring more educated workers is perceived to increase and more education is required to perform tasks that previously required less education. As an institutional response to this, states can intervene through education policy. That is, governments can increase the number of years of compulsory schooling in order to endow citizens with the skills necessary to enter into a more complex labour market. This framework is different with respect to the human capital theory as the policy change that is undertaken to increase the skills of the labour force is considered as the institutional response to the economic development and not only as the private response to monetary incentives as Craig (1981) recognizes.

3.2) Neo-institutionalism (political economy factors)

This theory has been developed in order to address the unanswered questions left by the technical-functional theory. In particular, what has been observed is that the expansion of education at all levels is something that goes beyond the experience of rich and developed countries. Therefore, in order to understand what are the driving forces behind this world-wide educational experience, sociologists have analysed global phenomena that may have affected the development of similar institutions across different countries. This is the reason why Meyer and Schofer (2005) in their analysis related to the global expansion of higher education have focused on “how much the institutions of modernity (as opposed to the actual income and resource levels nominally associated with these modern institutions) diffuse around the world independent of socioeconomic developments”.6 In the context of the European expansion of compulsory schooling it is possible to notice that countries at different stages of development, with dissimilar levels of GDP per capita and technology have enacted the school-leaving age laws to increase compulsory education. Therefore, it seems necessary to investigate whether political economy factors may provide a good explanation to understand this change in education policy.

3.3) Role of the State

This is a different theory with respect to the ones that have been previously introduced in the sense that it provides a supply-side explanation. That is to say that the timing of the enactment of the school-leaving age laws is considered not to be a result of the economic and socio-political conditions of the postwar society but as a direct consequence of the capability of the state to support the expansion of education. According to this theory the expansion of education is affected by the strength of the state. Consequently, strong states that emerged at the end of the Second World War had the possibility to devote resources to education and to expand the level of compulsory schooling with the belief that “sustained economic growth needed an increasingly skilled manpower”.7 This framework is also in contrast with the class-conflict theories as it recognizes that as the State becomes more complex and structurally organized, then the possibility for class-conflict is greatly reduced whereas the “scope for negotiation increases enormously”8 as Archer (1979) suggests. In this general framework, a stream of the literature has focused on the strength of the state in promoting change in the educational system.9

4) Data and methodology

4.1) Data sources

A novel dataset has been constructed by drawing from a variety of national and international sources. It covers the period 1950-2000 and it consists of annual data. The dataset includes 15 European countries: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Greece, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

4.2) Descriptive statistics

The evolution of average years of schooling, GDP and technology per capita as well as other indicators of human capital and variables that will be used in the regression analysis have been examined for the 15 European countries.

4.3) Regression analysis
The model

The analysis has been carried out by using the panel data technique and the model used is a duration model. The reason why I have used this model is because it solves many of the shortcomings of the traditional models in explaining the timing of a policy change.10 The main assumptions are: the model is semi-parametric and the time-fixed and time-varying covariates are exogenous. Therefore, the following propositions have to hold true:

V s ≥ t, E(Zi,s | hi,t) = 0

V s ≥ t, E(Xi,s | hi,t) = 0

This is the specification of the hazard function of the Cox proportional hazard model:
hi,t = h0,t e[Xi α + Zi,t β ]

hi,t is the duration variable

h0,t is the baseline hazard function that is left unspecified

Xi is the vector of the time fixed covariates

Zi,t is the vector of the time-varying covariates

α, β are the coefficients to be estimated

The dependent variable is the duration variable that reflects the timing of the passage of the law. Among the covariates there are constant variables and time-varying variables. The linearity assumption of the effects could be relaxed as the theories do not imply linearity.
Empirical Analysis

I have used the model described above to test the theories that have been presented in section three with the purpose of understanding which one provides the best explanation for the expansion of compulsory schooling in post-war Europe. I have run the regressions by using a number of specifications: the 15 countries over the period 1950-2000. After, I have divided the time period in two according to the end of the Golden Age. Namely, I have run a regression that covers the period 1950-73 and another from 1974 until 2000. Finally, I have divided the sample of countries in two according to the level of backwardness with respect to human capital. In this regard, it is possible to observe a distinctive pattern that characterizes Southern European countries with respect to the other countries in the sample.

Following the recent techniques developed in the political science and political economy literatures, the possible “effect of contagion” in the passage of the compulsory schooling legislation has been tested by using a variety of specifications.

Finally a test to check the robustness of the empirical estimation has been carried out.

5) Concluding remarks

The empirical evidence I have found will be presented at the conference and is in support of the theory of modernization when the overall period is considered. However, during the Golden Age, the unprecedented growth experienced by most European countries had a strong impact on the passage of the school-leaving age laws. The technical-functional theory performs better again after 1973. This is when the technological gap was perceived by European Governments as particularly important and the globalization process greatly enhanced the need to modernize the educational system. On the other hand, the more advanced nations among the 15 European countries considered, soon shifted the focus of their policies to higher education. This is because they had already reached high participation rates in secondary education and the progressive “scientization” of technology required a more educated labour force by creating greater complementarities between highly educated workers and the new equipment. Therefore, the empirical findings are in support of the theory put forward by Aghion, Meghir and Vandenbussche (2004) and the idea that the “appropriate institutions” vary according to the level of development of a country. Moreover, the results of the robustness analysis show that it is possible to reject the hypothesis of endogeneity.

The importance of national factors, of “contagion” as well as of the process of European integration in determining the expansion of formal education has been acknowledged and it appears to be a promising area for future research.
6) References

Aghion P., Meghir C. and Vandebussche J. (2004), Growth Distance to Frontier and Composition of Human Capital, IFS Working Paper W04/31.

Archer M.S. (1979), Social Origins of Educational Systems, Sage Publications Ltd.

Bordieu P. and Passeron J.C. (1977), Reproduction: in education, society and culture, London, Pub. Sage.

Cipolla C.M. (1969), Literacy and development in the West, Penguin Books.

Diebolt C. (1999), “Government Expenditure on Education and Economic Cycles in the Niteenth and Twentieth Centuries. The Case of Spain with special reference to France and Germany” Historical Social Research, Vol.24, No.1, pp.3-31.

Diebolt C. and Fontevielle L. (2001), “Dynamic forces in Educational Development: A Long-Run Comparative View of France and Germany in the 19th and 20th Centuries” Compare, Vol.31, No.3, pp.295-309.

Eichengreen B. (1996), “Institutions and Economic Growth: Europe after World War II” in Economic Growth in Europe since 1945, edited by Crafts N. and Toniolo G.

Jenkins S.P. (2005), Survival Analysis, Unpublished manuscript, Institute for Social and Economic Research, University of Essex, Colchester, UK.

Landes D. (1969), The unbound Prometeus. Technological change and industrial development in Western Europe from 1750 to the present, Cambridge University Press.

Maynes M.J. (1985), Schooling in Western Europe. A Social History, State of New York Press Albany.

Meyer J.W. and Schofer E. (2005), “The Worldwide Expansion of Higher Education in the Twentieth Century” American Sociological Review, Vol.70, pp.898-920.

1 Diebolt (1999), p.30.

2 OECD (1983), p.12

3 Maynes (1985), p.25.

4 See Cipolla (1969) and Tortella (1990).

5 In order to address this issue, later in the panel regression analysis, fixed effects will be used to take into account country-specific attributes.

6 Meyer and Schofer (2005), p.5.

7 Demeulemeester and Diebolt (2005), p.3.

8 Archer (1979), p.237.

9 Archer (1979) and Thelen (2004).

10 Jenkins (2005), provides an exhaustive analysis of the limitations of the traditional models.

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