Economics serving society

Social Mobility in five African Countries

Thomas Bossuroy et Denis Cogneau

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How much do we know about social mobility in Africa and how does it compare with mobility in other regions of the developing world? How are structural changes and economic crises affecting the trajectories of the cohorts born between 1930 and 1980 on the Ivory Coast, in Ghana, Guinea, Uganda and Madagascar? Thomas Bossuroy and Denis Cogneau have compiled a large amount of data from enquiries conducted between 1985 and 2005, which for the first time allow the measurement of professional mobility between generations in those five countries. There is much economic and sociological literature comparing intergenerational mobility, in relation to income, education or profession. However, the available comparisons rarely include the developing countries and almost never include African countries.
The authors focus in particular on transitions from the agricultural sector to non-agricultural sectors. While Madagascar stands out for its very low level of mobility, the four other countries seem more comparable. However, this similarity is misleading. On the Ivory Coast and in Guinea, the first two decades following independence (1960-80) saw strong growth in well-paid non-agricultural employment and many children of agricultural people were propelled into other sectors. On the contrary, in Ghana and Uganda, which went through great economic (and political) crises in the same period, the flow between the two sectors is much less dramatic. Since then, when we extract the structural mobility that is linked to growth and changes in employment, the two former French colonies have shown a “net mobility” well below the two former British colonies. While Madagascar has a level of social immobility close to that of India, a country in which the caste system seriously limits opportunities, the Ivory Coast and Guinea rank above Brazil, South Africa and China, while Ghana and Uganda fall well below. The two authors propose two explanations for these clear differences in mobility between countries: low educational mobility partially explains the exception of Madagascar; and the unequal geographical distribution of non-agricultural workers, especially in the public sector, explains the differences between the other four countries. Regarding the latter point, the heritage of French centralism may have favoured the spatial segregation of employment that is much more marked on the Ivory Coast and in Guinea, especially between the capital and the rest of the country.
Original title of the article: Social Mobility in five African Countries
Published in: Review of Income and Wealth, Special Issue, Volume 59, Issue Supplement S1, pages S84–S110, October 2013
This article has been awarded the Kendrick prize 2013 as best article of the year in the “Review of Income and Wealth”
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