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National wealth and years of education

A country's national wealth and the education of its population are highly correlated. In developed countries with a high level of national income the population usually has more years of education than the population of low income countries. Countries with a highly educated work force can achieve higher economic growth rates and at the same time wealthy countries have the financial resources to invest more in education.

The relationship between national wealth and years of education can be illustrated with a comparison of national data on school life expectancy (SLE) and gross domestic product (GDP) per capita. The school life expectancy is the average number of years a child of school entrance age is expected to spend in primary, secondary or tertiary education. GDP per capita is the total value of all goods and services produced in a country, divided by its population.

The graph below plots the school life expectancy against GDP per capita in 2006, the year with the most recent data. The GDP data was adjusted with purchasing power parities (PPP) to account for differences in the price levels between countries. To emphasize the shape of the relationship with school life expectancy the GDP data is plotted on a logarithmic scale. In total, data for 175 countries was available. Each country is identified by a marker that indicates the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) region in which it is located.

The graph clearly demonstrates that GDP per capita is positively correlated with school life expectancy. The upper right corner of the graph is populated mainly by developed countries with a high GDP per capita and a long school life expectancy. The countries with the highest school life expectancy are Australia (SLE 20.5 years, GDP per capita $35,500), New Zealand (SLE 19.5 years, GDP per capita $25,500), and Iceland (SLE 18.2 years, GDP per capita $36,900). The countries with the lowest school life expectancy are Angola (SLE 3.7 years, GDP per capita $4,400), Niger (SLE 3.9 years, GDP per capita $630), and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (SLE 4.3 years, GDP per capita $280). The Democratic Republic of the Congo has the lowest GDP per capita of all countries with data.

GDP per capita and school life expectancy, 2006
Scatter plot of school life expectancy and GDP per capita in 175 countries
Data sources: UNESCO Institute for Statistics, World Bank, UN Population Division.

The following table lists the average school life expectancy, the average GDP per capita, and the total population in each MDG region and for the world as a whole. At the global level, the average school life expectancy is 11.5 years and the average GDP per capita is $9,300. Developed countries have the highest school life expectancy (15.8 years) and the highest GDP per capita ($33,500). Countries in Latin America and the Caribbean and members of the Commonwealth of Independent States (the former Soviet Union) also have a high school life expectancy (13.5 years and 13.4 years, respectively) but at lower levels of GDP per capita ($9,100 and $9,400).

In Northern Africa, the average school life expectancy is 12.2 years, with a GDP per capita around $5,400. In Eastern Asia, South-Eastern Asia, Oceania, and Western Asia, the school life expectancy ranges from 11 to 11.4 years. Western Asia, which includes the oil-rich countries of the Middle East, is the region with the second highest GDP per capita ($11,400) but school life expectancy is the third lowest of all ten MDG regions. Southern Asia has the second lowest school life expectancy with 9.6 years and an average GDP per capita of $2,600. The lowest school life expectancy is observed in Sub-Saharan Africa (7.7 years) and this region also has the lowest GDP per capita ($1,800).

MDG regions: school life expectancy, GDP per capita, and total population, 2006
MDG region School life expectancy (years) GDP per capita, PPP (current international $) Total population (1,000)
Developed countries 15.8 33,508 1,015,487
Commonwealth of Independent States 13.4 9,371 278,295
Eastern Asia 11.4 5,471 1,402,837
South-Eastern Asia 11.3 4,190 565,105
Oceania 11.4 2,323 8,804
Southern Asia 9.6 2,649 1,612,841
Western Asia 11.0 11,394 200,205
Northern Africa 12.2 5,433 155,086
Sub-Saharan Africa 7.7 1,818 788,122
Latin America and the Caribbean 13.5 9,109 564,732
World 11.5 9,262 6,591,513
Data sources: UNESCO Institute for Statistics, World Bank, UN Population Division. Regional averages are weighted by each country's total population.

A related article on this site analyzes the link between national wealth and school enrollment at the primary and secondary level of education. Countries with a high GDP per capita usually have higher net enrollment rates than countries with a low GDP per capita. This relationship is particularly strong at the secondary level of education. Two articles on poverty and educational attainment in the United States examine poverty rates and high school graduation rates in the 50 U.S. states.

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Friedrich Huebler, 3 August 2008 (edited 28 August 2008), Creative Commons License
Permanent URL: http://huebler.blogspot.com/2008/08/wealth.html

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