The Legacy of Landlords: Educational Distribution and Development in a Comparative Perspective

Das Vermächtnis der Plantagenwirtschaft: Bildungsungleichheiten und Entwicklung in einer vergleichenden Perspektive


This paper shows that differences in educational outcomes within and between Asia and Latin America are caused in part by the type of agricultural production system. It is argued that, in contrast to states organized around family farming, countries exhibiting plantation-style agriculture tend to neglect broadly based educational policies. Plantation owners may have curtailed educational expansion to impede political mobilization of rural workers in order to secure a cheap supply of hired labour and monopolize the political arena. Results of panel data analysis as well as OLS cross-sectional regressions show that the export of crops grown on large landholdings substantially decreases secondary education attainment levels and governments’ investments in secondary schooling. Simultaneously, these same exports are associated with higher tertiary education levels. The quantitative analysis is complemented by historical evidence of agrarian elites attempting to hinder the development of mass schooling in many countries.


Der vorliegende Beitrag zeigt, dass Bildungsunterschiede zwischen und innerhalb Asien und Lateinamerikas zum Teil auf unterschiedliche landwirtschaftliche Produktionssysteme zurückzuführen sind. Im Gegensatz zu Ländern, deren Agrarproduktion hauptsächlich auf landwirtschaftlichen Kleinbetrieben beruht, tendieren Plantagenwirtschaften dazu, eine umfassende Bildung ihrer Bevölkerung zu vernachlässigen. Großgrundbesitzer haben sich gegen eine breite Bildungsexpansion gewehrt, um die politische Mobilisierung von Agrararbeitern zu verhindern und somit die Bereitstellung billiger Arbeitskräfte und das Monopol über den politischen Entscheidungsfindungsprozess sicher zu stellen. Ergebnisse einer gepoolten Zeitreihen- und Querschnittsanalyse deuten darauf hin, dass der Export von Plantagenprodukten sowohl die Sekundarbildungsabschlüsse als auch die Sekundarbildungsausgaben eines Landes verringert. Gleichzeitig wird diese Exportkategorie mit mehr Hochschulausbildung in Verbindung gebracht. Die quantitative Analyse wird um historische Evidenz für den Widerstand der Agrareliten gegen die Entwicklung einer umfangreichen Schulausbildung ergänzt.

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  1. 1.

    Note that the data reflects the percentage of the population having completed primary or secondary education but nothing higher. Thus, the categories are exclusive.

  2. 2.

    Data compiled by Engerman et al. (2000) show a very similar picture.

  3. 3.

    Note that this paper refers to the export structure rather than looking at production figures. This choice was primarily a matter of data availability. Production data is only available for a shorter time span and less detailed than export data, and is rather unreliable for some of the reported countries. However, a high correlation between production and export output can be assumed.

  4. 4.

    Statistics Canada revised the United Nations trade data to fit the Canadian trade classification.

  5. 5.

    Data for the year 1962 was used as proxy for the year 1960. The data is available at (January 20th, 2009).

  6. 6.

    The category plantation crops (also called “cash crops”) represents agricultural labour-intensive goods usually gained from cultivation on large plantations: bananas, oranges, orange juice, sugar, coffee, cocoa, tobacco, palm nuts, palm kennels, rubber, palm oil, coconut oil.

  7. 7.

    These figures are confirmed by new land inequality data recently compiled by Frankema (2006).

  8. 8.

    Besides diverging factor endowments, one has to look at the timing of land reform when trying to assess the landownership structure of both regions. Following World War II, several Asian countries implemented successful agrarian reforms, due largely to the prodding of the United States or to other external factors such as the North Korean invasion of the South. In countries such as South Korea, Taiwan or Bangladesh, for example, agrarian reform came before significant industrialization had taken place.

  9. 9.

    The assumption laid down above has already been subject to empirical tests in the literature. Focusing on the characteristics of interest groups themselves, Bates (1981) for example shows that a few large African farmers managed to overcome their collective action problem, receiving input subsidies from governments, in contrast to a mass of small farmers that stayed unorganized. The author concludes that in the African countries he examined, all special interests (large farmers, urban residents) were satisfied at the expense of unorganized groups (small farmers).

  10. 10.

    Works analyzing landlords’ political resilience are Hagopian (1996) for Brazil, Stone (1990) for Central America, Abente (1995) for Paraguay, Hartlyn (1998) for the Dominican Republic or Smith (1979) for Mexico.

  11. 11.

    Works analyzing the importance of clientelist practices in rural as well as urban settings are Cornelius (1977) and Grindle (1977) for Mexico, Schmidt (1977) for Colombia, Stokes (1995) for Peru and Powell (1977) for Venezuela.

  12. 12.

    The so called Australian ballot (a system of state-provided ballots with provisions to ensure secrecy) was not introduced in Brazil until 1955, 1958 in Chile and 1988 in Colombia.

  13. 13.

    Frieden (1991) argues that sectors like agriculture, in which assets are specific and cannot be easily transferred for other uses, have the most to gain from influencing governments.

  14. 14.

    For a description of working conditions throughout rural Latin America see Duncan and Routledge (1977).

  15. 15.

    Political participation includes “not only voting and other forms of electoral activity (e.g., working in campaigns, making financial contributions) but also contacting public officials, attending protests, and getting involved either formally or informally on local issues” (Brady et al. 1995, p. 272–3).

  16. 16.

    This paper concentrates on landlords’ resistance towards secondary (rather than primary) education for several reasons related to the causal mechanisms outlined above. First, it can be assumed that children who are younger than eleven years of age do not constitute an important workforce for landowners, as their potential contribution to farms’ productivity is only marginal. Landlords may therefore have been less reluctant to accept primary school visits. Furthermore, since especially secondary schooling is believed to qualify workers to take up jobs in the industrial sector, this kind of education constituted a considerable threat to the supply of rural laborers. Finally, cross-sectional variance of secondary education is larger than of primary schooling for the period under analysis (most of the countries in the sample exhibit high primary school coverage after 1960).

  17. 17.

    This period of Brazilian history is known as República das Oligarquias (Republic of the Oligarchies). The leading politicians of this period came from two major political parties: Partido Republicano Paulista (PRP) and Partido Republicano Mineiro (PRM). Both parties represented the interests of the agrarian elite, especially the coffee producers from Sao Paulo and cattle owners from Minas Gerais.

  18. 18.

    The decrees 13.175, 13.390 and 13.460 were issued between 1918 and 1919.

  19. 19.

    See e.g. O Estado de Sao Paulo 01/17/1925, 01/19/1925, 01/21/1925 or 04/08/1931.

  20. 20.

    See e.g. O Estado de Sao Paulo 04/25/1931 or 04/26/1931.

  21. 21.

    Economically powerful actors do not necessarily have to be political influential. However, the historical evidence from Latin America and Asia tells us that in almost every country with plantation-style, extensive agriculture and a concentrated landownership structure, landlords form a cohesive, resilient and politically influential group. As argued, this might be explained by lower collective actions costs compared to the numerous small family farmers in Asia.

  22. 22.

    See footnote 23.

  23. 23.

    24 countries have sufficient data available: Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Jamaica, Korea Republic, Malaysia, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Venezuela.

  24. 24.

    See Sachs and Warner (1995, 2001), Gylfason (2001), Sala-i-Martin and Subramanian (2003) or Isham et al. (2005).

  25. 25.

    Papers considering all or part of these control variables are Kaufman and Segura-Ubiergo (2001), Brown and Hunter (2004), Stasavage (2005) or Avelino et al. (2005).

  26. 26.

    The data is available at: (April 5th, 2008).

  27. 27.

    The two authors suggest applying OLS estimators with panel-corrected standard errors, unit and period fixed effects as well as including the lagged dependent variable when analyzing pooled cross-sectional time-series data.

  28. 28.

    Note, however, that the export of plantation crops is only significant on the 10%-level. This might be a consequence of the many variables and the few cases considered by the analysis.

  29. 29.

    A stepwise inclusion of the independent variables in the four different models showed that the reported statistical significance of the independent variables is not simply a result of multicollinearity.

  30. 30.

    All these results are available upon request.

  31. 31.

    Data were retrieved from the World Development Indicators 2003.

  32. 32.

    This operationalization would be problematic in case public secondary education would be biased towards higher income classes (e.g. children of the landowning class). It can be said, however, that in most of the analyzed countries rich parents send their children to private schools.

  33. 33.

    The 17 countries for which data was available are: Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Honduras, Korea Republic, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, Venezuela, India, Philippines, Singapore, Venezuela.

  34. 34.

    Coatsworth (1984), for example, shows how an expansion of opportunities of agricultural exports in Mexico led to a systematic expropriation of Indian lands during the government of General Porfirio Díaz at the beginning of the 20th century.


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Correspondence to Dr. Tim Wegenast.

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Comments from Carles Boix, Francisco Ferreira, Gøsta Esping-Andersen, Jacint Jordana, Lakshmi Iyer, Ricardo Hausmann, Stanley Engerman, Sunnee Billingsley as well as two anonymous reviewers are gratefully acknowledged. I also want to thank the Catalan Government for providing generous funding.

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Wegenast, T. The Legacy of Landlords: Educational Distribution and Development in a Comparative Perspective. Z Vgl Polit Wiss 3, 81–107 (2009).

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  • Education
  • Plantation economies
  • Agrarian elites
  • Inequality


  • Bildung
  • Plantagenwirtschaft
  • Agrareliten
  • Ungleichheit