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Equality of opportunity in educational achievement in the Middle East and North Africa


This paper is an empirical investigation of inequality of education opportunities in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). We use student scores from tests administered by the international consortium Trends in Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) for a number of MENA countries and over time since 1999 to estimate the effect of circumstances children are born into on their academic achievement in science and mathematics. We find that inequality of opportunities explains a significant part of the inequality in educational achievements in most MENA countries, but there is ample heterogeneity. Family background variables are the most important determinants of inequality in achievement, followed by community characteristics. The results show that, despite great efforts in past decades to invest in free public education, most MENA countries are less opportunity equal in educational achievement than European countries, and several are less so than Latin America and the United States. From the variation in inequality of education opportunities across countries and over time we draw lessons on the influence of different education systems or changes in policy on equality of opportunity.

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Corresponding author

Correspondence to Djavad Salehi-Isfahani.

Additional information

Funding for this project was provided by the Economic Research Forum under its Research Initiative for Arab Development. We benefited from comments from T. Paul Schultz and two anonymous referees. Ali Hashemi, Bryce Stucki, and Christiane Wissa provided able research assistance.

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Salehi-Isfahani, D., Hassine, N.B. & Assaad, R. Equality of opportunity in educational achievement in the Middle East and North Africa. J Econ Inequal 12, 489–515 (2014).

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  • Equality of opportunity
  • Education
  • Middle East and North Africa

JEL Classifications

  • D63
  • I24
  • O15
  • O53