Hostname: page-component-848d4c4894-5nwft Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2024-05-28T07:58:50.060Z Has data issue: false hasContentIssue false

Why Isn't the Whole World Developed?

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  03 March 2009

Richard A. Easterlin
Professor of Economics, University of Pennsylvania


The worldwide spread of modern economic growth has depended chiefly on the diffusion of a body of knowledge concerning new production techniques. The acquisition and application of this knowledge by different countries has been governed largely by whether their populations have acquired traits and motivations associated with formal schooling. To judge from the historical experience of the world's twenty-five largest nations, the establishment and expansion of formal schooling has depended in large part on political conditions and ideological influences. The limited spread of modern economic growth before World War II has thus been due, at bottom, to important political and ideological differences throughout the world that affected the timing of the establishment and expansion of mass schooling. Since World War II there has been growing uniformity among the nations of the world, modern education systems have been established almost everywhere, and the spread of modern economic growth has noticeably accelerated.

Papers Presented at the Fortieth Annual Meeting of the Economic History Association
Copyright © The Economic History Association 1981

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


1 Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences (New York, 1931), vol. V, p. 410.Google Scholar

2 Easterlin, Richard A., “Economic Growth: Overview,” International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences (New York, 1969), vol. IV, pp. 395408.Google Scholar

3 Modern Economic Growth: Rate, Structure and Spread (New Haven, 1966), chap. I.Google Scholar

4 The Creation of Knowledge and Technique: Today's Task and Yesterday's Experience,” Daedalus, 109 (Winter 1980), 111.Google Scholar

5 For similar views see Kuznets, Growth;Google ScholarCameron, Rondo, “The Diffusion of Technology as a Problem in Economic History,” Economic Geography, 51 (07 1975), 217–30;Google ScholarParker, William N., “Economic Development in Historical Perspective,” Economic Development and Cultural Change, 10 (10 1961), 17;Google ScholarWoodruff, William, Impact of Western Man (New York, 1967);Google ScholarBairoch, Paul, The Economic Development of the Third World since 1900 (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1975);Google ScholarHanson, John Robert, Trade in Transition: Exports from the Third World, 1840–1900 (New York, 1980);Google ScholarAshworth, William, A Short History of the International Economy, 1850–1950 (London, 1952).Google Scholar A valuable framework for the study of international political development is presented in Rokkan, Stein, “Dimensions of State Formation and Nation Building: A Paradigm for Research on Variations within Europe,” in Tilly, Charles, ed., The Formation of National States in Western Europe (Princeton, 1975), pp. 562600.Google Scholar

6 Henderson, William O., Britain and Industrial Europe, 3d ed. (Leicester, 1972);Google ScholarLandes, David S., The Unbound Prometheus: Technological Change and Industrial Development in Western Europe from 1750 to the Present (Cambridge, 1969);Google ScholarTuge, Hideomi, ed., Historical Development of Science and Technology in Japan (Tokyo, 1961);Google ScholarSaxonhouse, Gary, “A Tale of Japanese Technological Diffusion in the Meiji Period,” this JOURNAL, 34 (03 1974), 149–65;Google ScholarStrassman, W. Paul, Risk and Technological Innovation (Ithaca, 1959).Google Scholar

7 Rosenberg, Nathan, “Factors Affecting the Payoff to Technological Innovation,” unpublished document prepared for the National Science Foundation (1974).Google Scholar See also Teece, David J., The Multinational Corporation and the Resource Cost of International Technology Transfer (Cambridge, MA, 1976).Google Scholar

8 Rosenberg, Nathan, “Economic Development and the Transfer of Technology: Some Historical Perspectives,” Technology and Culture, 11 (10 1970), 555, emphasis added.Google Scholar

9 Svennilson, Ingvar, “Technical Assistance: The Transfer of Industrial Know-how to Non-Industrialized Countries,” in Berill, Kenneth, ed., Economic Development with Special Reference to East Asia (New York, 1964), p. 408, emphasis in original.Google Scholar

10 Arrow, Kenneth J., “Classification Notes on the Production and Transmission of Technological Knowledge,” American Economic Review: Papers and Proceedings, 52 (05 1969), 33;Google Scholar see also Spencer, Daniel Lloyd, The Technological Gap in Perspective (New York, 1970).Google Scholar

11 Hyman, Herbert H., Wright, Charles R., and Reed, John Shelton, The Enduring Effects of Education (Chicago, 1975), p. 109.Google Scholar

12 Tuge, Science; for early data on Japanese students studying abroad,Google Scholar see Schairer, Reinhold, Die Student en im internationalen Kulturleben: Beitrage zur Frage des Studiums infremdem Lande (Munster in Westfalen, 1927), chap. 1.Google Scholar See also Henderson, Europe.Google Scholar

13 North, Douglass C. and Thomas, Robert Paul, The Rise of the Western World: A New Economic History (Cambridge, 1973);Google ScholarHughes, Jonathan R. T., Social Control in the Colonial Economy (Charlottesville, 1976).Google Scholar

14 The countries chosen were those with 1960 populations greater than 18 million. Because of insufficient historical data, Poland, Pakistan, and Viet Nam are omitted.

15 Among other comparability problems are the occasional use of attendance rather than enrollment data, variations in the time of year for which enrollment is reported, differences in the length of the school day and school year, and differences in schools included in the “primary” category (e.g., kindergartens).

16 For other studies of enrollment rates see UNESCO, World Survey of Education, vol. 2 (New York, 1958), pp. 4260;Google ScholarPeaslee, Alexander L., “Education's Role in Development,” Economic Development and Cultural Change, 17 (04 1969), 293318. Although enrollment is used here in preference to literacy because it is a more reliable indicator of the expansion of formal mass schooling, valuable work has been done to develop historical literacy data.Google Scholar See Flora, Peter, “Historical Processes of Social Mobilization: Urbanization and Literacy, 1850–1965,” in Eisenstadt, Shmuel N. and Rokkan, Stein, eds., Building States and Nations, vol. I (Beverly Hills, 1973), pp. 213–58;Google ScholarCipolla, Carlo M., Literacy and Development in the West (Baltimore, 1969);Google ScholarUNESCO, Progress of Literacy in Various Countries (Paris, 1953);Google ScholarUNESCO, World Illiteracy at Mid-Century (Paris, 1957);Google ScholarAbel, James F. and Bond, Norman J., “Illiteracy in the Several Countries of the World,” Department of the Interior Bureau of Education Bulletin No. 4 (1929), pp. 168.Google Scholar

17 Dore, Ronald P., Education in Tokugawa Japan (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1965);Google ScholarPassin, Herbert, Society and Education in Japan (New York, 1965). A number of writers stress the role of education in Japanese economic growth.Google Scholar See, for example, Ohkawa, Kazushi and Rosovsky, Henry, “A Century of Japanese Economic Growth,” in Lockwood, William W., ed., The State and Economic Enterprise in Japan (Princeton, 1965), pp. 5859,Google Scholar and Yasuba, Yasukichi, “Another Look at the Tokugawa Heritage with Special Reference to Social Conditions,” unpublished paper, The Center for Southeast Asia Studies, Kyoto University, October 1979.Google Scholar

18 Parker, William N., “Perspective,” p. 1.Google Scholar For valuable discussions of some of the issues in this paragraph see Anderson, C. Arnold and Bowman, Mary Jean, eds., Education and Economic Development (Chicago, 1965);Google ScholarAnderson, C. Arnold and Bowman, Mary Jean, “Education and Economic Modernization in Historical Perspective” and Lawrence Stone, “Introduction,” both in Stone, Lawrence, ed., Schooling and Society (Baltimore, 1976), pp. xi–xvii, 3–19;Google ScholarBowman, Mary Jean and Anderson, C. Arnold, “Concerning the Role of Education in Development,” and Martin Carnoy, “Education and Economic Development: The First Generation,” Economic Development and Cultural Change: Essays in Honor of Bert F. Hoselitz, 25 (Supplement, 1977), 428–48;Google ScholarHarbison, Frederick and Meyers, Charles A., Education, Manpower, and Economic Growth (New York, 1964);Google ScholarCameron, , “Diffusion”; The World Bank, World Development Report (Washington, D. C., 1980), chap. 5.Google Scholar

19 Coleman, James S., ed., Education and Political Development (Princeton, 1965);Google ScholarBowles, Samuel and Gintis, Herbert, Schooling in Capitalist America (New York, 1976);Google ScholarCarnoy, Martin, Education as Cultural Imperialism (New York, 1974);Google ScholarDreeben, Robert, On What Is Learned in School (Reading, MA, 1968);Google ScholarFoster, Philip, Education and Social Change in Ghana (Chicago, 1965);Google ScholarGraff, Harvey J., The Literacy Myth (New York, 1979);Google ScholarKatz, Michael B., Class, Bureaucracy, and Schools (New York, 1971).Google Scholar

20 Inkeles, Alex and Smith, David H., Becoming Modern (Cambridge, 1974);Google ScholarInkeles, Alex, “The School as a Context for Modernization,” International Journal of Comparative Sociology, 14, no. 3–4 (0912. 1973), 163–79;Google ScholarMcClelland, David C., “Does Education Accelerate Economic Growth?Economic Development and Cultural Change, 14 (04 1966), 257–78;Google ScholarForm, William, “Comparative Industrial Sociology and the Convergence Hypothesis,” Annual Review of Sociology, 5 (1979), 125.Google Scholar

21 Inkeles and Smith, Becoming Modern, chap. 9. Formal education is, to be sure, not the only institution to create modern men; some of the new economic institutions accompanying modern economic growth—most notably, the factory—also work in this way. Thus, there is the possibility of growth “by pulling up on one's own bootstraps”—factones once established create personality changes conducive to further economic growth. But the population exposed to factory experience is much more limited than that potentially reached by a formal school system. Moreover, the evidence indicates that the impact of formal schooling in creating the personality traits of “modern man” is much greater than that of any other institution—more than twice as great, for example, as that of the next most important institution, the factory.Google Scholar

22 For example, for 90 countries in the period 1970–74, the adjusted R2 between primary and secondary enrollment rates is. 51; between primary and higher,.41. Data are from UNESCO, Statistical Yearbook, 1976 (Paris, 1977).Google Scholar

23 In the nineteenth century, educational modernization in the Ottoman Empire, to the extent it occuffed, stressed education of the elite; see Kazamias, Andreas M., Education and the Quest for Modernity in Turkey (Chicago, 1966). The 1950s data for India presented by Harbison and Meyers suggest a disproportion of secondary and higher education relative to primaryGoogle Scholar (Manpower, p. 47).Google Scholar

24 Thut, I. N. and Adams, Don, Educational Patterns in Contemporary Societies (New York, 1964), p.62.Google Scholar

25 As quoted in Mecham, J.Lloyd, Church and State in Latin America (Durham, NC, 1934), P. 406.Google Scholar

26 See, for example, Mitch, David, “The Impact of a Growing Demand of Literate Workers on the Spread of Literacy in Nineteenth Century England”, presented at the Workshop in Economic History, University of Chicago, no. 7980–2 (Oct. 1979).Google Scholar

27 This has been explicitly recognized in recent economic history research. See, e.g., Field, Alexander James, “Economic and Demographic Determinants of Educational Commitment: Massachusetts, 1855”, this JOURNAL, 39 (06 1979), 439–57.Google Scholar

28 Flora notes the close association in a number of countries between the date of independence and the date when compulsory education was established. See Flora, “Mobilization”, pp. 230–37.Google Scholar

29 Davis, Lance E. and Huttenback, Robert A., “Public Expenditures and Private Profit: Budgetary Decisions in the British Empire, 1860–1912,” American Economic Review, 67 (02 1977), 282–88.Google Scholar

30 Landé, Carl H., “The Philippines”, in Coleman, James S., ed., Political Development, pp. 313–52;Google ScholarEtö, Shinkichi, “Asianism and the Duality of Japanese Colonialism, 1879–1945”, in Blussé, L., Wesseling, H. L., and Winius, G. D.. eds., History and Underdevelopment (Paris, 1980):Google ScholarGrajdanzev, Andrew J., Modern Korea (New York, 1944).Google Scholar

31 On Russia and the USSR, see Hans, Nicholas, History of Russian Educational Policy, 1701–1917 (New York, 1964), p. 65,Google Scholar and Azrael, Jeremy R., “Soviet Union”, in Coleman, , ed., Political Development, pp. 233–71.Google Scholar

32 Mecham, Church, pp. 245–47, 376–77, 388–93. In Brazil, however, the church does not seem to have played as critical a role in the growth of mass education; there a shift in political control from conservatives to liberals appears to have been more important. See Burns, E.Bradford, A History of Brazil (New York, 1970), pp. 290, 302–03.Google Scholar

33 On Turkey, see Kazamias, Turkey, pp. 73–74; Iran, Farmayan, Hafez Farman, “The Forces of Modernization in Nineteenth Century Iran: A Historical Survey”, in Polk, William R. and Chambers, Richard L., eds., Beginnings of Modernization in the Middle East (Chicago, 1968), p. 123.Google Scholar In Egypt, Islam seems to have been less of an obstacle to educational change; see Vatikiotis, P. J., The Modern of Egypt (New York, 1969).Google Scholar

34 Monroe, Paul, A Text-Book in the History of Education (London, 1907), p. 407. Japan seems have had its own version of the “Protestant ethic”;Google Scholar see Bellah, Robert N., Tokugawa Religion (New York, 1957).Google Scholar

35 Becker, Carl L., The Heavenly City of the Eighteenth-Century Philosophers (New Haven, 1932).Google Scholar

36 Cf. Thut and Adams, Educational Patterns, p. 113: “In the end, Frenchmen committed themselves to the ideas derived from humanism, rather than from Roman Catholic or Protestant theologies, a development which had profound educational consequences.”Google Scholar

37 The leading role of non-conformists in the British industrial revolution is emphasized in Everett Hagen, E., On the Theory of Social Change (Homewood, III., 1962), chap. 13.Google Scholar Valuable discussions of early American education growth are Cremin, Lawrence A., American Education: The Colonial Experience, 1607–1783 (New York, 1970);Google ScholarBailyn, Bernard, Education in the Forming of American Society (New York, 1960);Google ScholarFishlow, Albert, “The American Common School Revival: Fact or Fancy?” in Rosovsky, Henry, ed., Industrialization in Two Systems: Essays in Honor of Alexander Gerschenkron (New York, 1966).Google Scholar On England, see Jansen, Marius B. and Stone, Lawrence, “Education and Modernization in Japan and England,” Comparative Studies in Society and History, 9 (01 1967), 208–32;Google ScholarCurtis, Stanley J. and Boultwood, M.E.A., An Introductory History of English Education since 1800 (London, 1977);Google ScholarSchofield, Roger S., “Dimensions of Illiteracy, 1750–1850”, Explorations in Economic History, 10 (Summer 1973), 437–54;Google ScholarWest, E. G., “Literacy and the Industrial Revolution,” Economic History Review, 2nd ser., 24 (08 1978), 369–83.Google Scholar

38 Note, however, the numerous references above to recent economic history research on education. Gallman's recent presidential address also argues for a merger of the new social and economic history; Davis's, of the new political and economic history; see Gallman, Robert E., “Some Notes on the New Social History,” this JOURNAL, 37 (03 1977), 312;Google Scholar and Davis, Lance E., “It's a Long, Long Road to Tipperary, or Reflections on Organized Violence, Protection Rates, and Related Topics: The New Political History,” this JOURNAL, 40 (04 1980), 116.Google Scholar

39 From The Sakuddei television program as it appeared in the Odyssey series, produced and copyrighted by Public Broadcasting Associates, Inc., 1980. The original Sakuddei program was produced and copyrighted by Granada Television. The Sakuddei is a tribal clan living on an island off the west coast of Sumatra.Google Scholar

40 Morawetz, David, Twenty-Five Years of Economic Developmeni, 1950 to 1975 (Washington, D.C., 1977);Google ScholarSummers, Robert, Kravis, Irving B., and Heston, Alan, “International Comparison of Real Product and Its Composition: 1950–77,” The Review of Income and Wealth, Series 26, No. 1 (03 1980);Google ScholarHagen, Everett E. and Hawrylyshyn, Oli, “Analysis of world Income and Growth, 1955–1965”, Economic Development and Cultural Change, 18, no. 1, part II (10 1969).Google Scholar

41 Easterlin, Richard A., “Does Economic Growth Improve the Human Lot? Some Empirical Evidence”, Nations and Households in Economic Growth: Essays in Honor of Moses Abramovitz (New York, 1974);Google ScholarEasterlin, Richard A., “Does Money Buy Happiness?” The Public Interest, no. 30 (Winter 1973).Google Scholar

42 de Solla, Derek J. Price, Science since Babylon (New Haven, 1961), chap. 5.Google Scholar

43 Meyer, John W., Boli-Bennett, John, and Chase-Dunn, Christopher, “Convergence and Divergence in Development,” in Inkeles, Alex, ed., Annual Review of Sociology, 1 (Palo Alto, 1975), p. 228.Google Scholar