Globalization and the Rise of Mass Education—Introduction

  • Gabriele CappelliEmail author
  • David Mitch
Part of the Palgrave Studies in Economic History book series (PEHS)


This chapter outlines the relationship between globalization and education by presenting several potential factors linking the two aspects. First, existing evidence on the evolution of national school systems is presented. Secondly, an interpretative framework to connect global socioeconomic and political forces with local and national educational developments is discussed, based on migrations, trade, evolving institutions, colonialism and the activity of missions. Next, this framework is used to present the individual chapters of the book, with a broad geographical scope including countries in the Southern and Northern European periphery, North America and Latin America, Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. The last section sums up the main results and briefly presents remaining gaps that future research should fill.


Globalization Global forces Local conditions Human capital Education Mass schooling Migration Integration Diversity Literacy Numeracy Enrollment Trade Returns to schooling Incentives Missions Colonial Elites 

1.1 Education and Globalization in the Long Run

Today, human capital is recognized as one of the core determinants of economic growth, and a component of human development and well-being (Hanushek and Woessmann 2012; United Nations Development Programme 2016). Human capital is broadly defined as the skills and abilities possessed by individuals (Goldin 2016) and can be measured by numeracy, literacy and standardized test scores capturing cognitive capabilities. Although human capital can be acquired through channels that are independent from formal education, like experience and learning-by-doing in the workplace, the two concepts are almost seen as synonyms in modern society—even though they are not the same thing.

Mass schooling, as measured by primary school enrollments and school expenditures, has risen dramatically in the last two centuries. This evolution was mirrored by a decided growth in the extent of globalization: apart from a setback between World War I and World War II, international flows of goods and services, capital and people have intensified, a phenomenon prompted by technological progress and falling transport costs, as well as improvements in communications, leading to both commodity and factor price convergence.

This generalized path of global human capital accumulation hides remarkable national and regional disparities. Researchers have relied on age-heaping as a proxy for numeracy in the past (A’Hearn et al. 2009), showing that, at the beginning of the nineteenth century, almost the whole population of North-Western European countries possessed some basic numerical abilities (Crayen and Baten 2010). Despite this, in 1870, the only areas of Western Europe where literacy had spread substantially were the France, Germany and Great Britain (Pamuk and van Zanden 2010). However, throughout much of the rest of the World in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, exposure to primary education was still uncommon. Primary school enrollment rates in most of Latin America ranged between 15 and 45 percent in 1900 (Frankema 2009; Chaudhary et al. 2012); according to Benavot and Riddle (1988), in the same year, primary enrollment rates stood at below 20 percent in most Asian countries, with the exception of Japan (c. 50 percent); according to Frankema (2012), in 1938, average school enrollment rates in sub-Saharan Africa still ranged from 5 to 20 percent. Today, average world primary school enrollments fluctuate around 100 percent. World adult literacy rates are approaching 90 percent (they stood at 86 percent in 2016), but average adult literacy rates within sub-Saharan Africa are still as low as 64 percent, being around 57 percent for women.1

A substantial increase in globalization—which we define as the integration of labor, goods and capital markets on a global scale—is also suggested by various measures. For example, during a first wave of globalization (1820–1914), substantial commodity-price convergence between countries has been documented (Neal 2015, p. 212, Fig. 10.2), together with the convergence of government-bond yields across industrial-core nations (Neal 2015, p. 188, Fig. 8.2) and falling trans-oceanic transport costs (Hatton and Williamson 2005, p. 38, Fig. 3.1, p. 41, Table 3.3). Most importantly for the growth of schooling and human-capital flows, gross migration has increased remarkably in the second half of the nineteenth century and until World War I (Hatton and Williamson 2005, Chapter 2, pp. 73, 75; Bandiera et al. 2013), prompting falling international wage dispersion by amplifying the mechanism of factor price convergence (Hatton and Williamson 2005, Chapter 6). Openness began to decline with a globalization backlash starting in the late nineteenth century, coming abruptly to an end with World War I. The interwar period saw the attempt at restoring international cooperation—as shown by the willingness to resume the gold standard—which failed in the face of the 1929 crisis and growing nationalism.

After the disruptions created by World War II, integration and cooperation was achieved in the postwar period through Bretton Woods and other important institutional agreements, with further liberalization and capital-market integration starting in the 1980s (Eichengreen 2008). Indeed, figures on long-term trade and openness have underlined several similarities, and some differences, between a first (1820–1914) and second (post-1970) globalizations; likewise, while aggregate measures of the extent of financial integration and migration show a high integration of international markets during the late nineteenth century as well as today, specific features of capital and labor flows—directions, participating countries, etc.—differ substantially (Schularick 2006; Gibson and Jung 2006).

Both the striking increase in mass education and the growing extent of global market integration have been studied extensively; yet, the two aspects have never been explicitly linked in a comprehensive analysis of the spread of schooling worldwide, particularly in the very long run. The analysis of schooling and education policy in a long-term perspective remains mostly linked to the investigation of national case studies and national school acts, although important attempts at understanding how national school legislation interacts with local socioeconomic, cultural and institutional conditions to determine education through a genuine comparative perspective have been made (Westberg et al. 2019). Alternatively, studies based on a global and transnational perspective have tried to connect globalization and education but have remained mostly focused on the last few decades. Finally, one aspect that is crucial but neglected by several analyses of the issue is diversity across world regions and countries, such as cultural diversity and varying power structures—the latter referring to, e.g., different colonial education projects aimed to train colonial elites serving the metropole (Jackson 2016). Likewise, changes in economic incentives due to globalization, like returns to education, opportunity costs and employment opportunities, should be addressed by analyses linking globalization and human capital accumulation.

1.2 Globalization and Education: Toward an Interpretative Framework

Several studies in economics and economic history have aimed at shedding light on the relationship between national education policy and national, regional and local conditions—such as the demand for education given employment opportunities, skill premia and the opportunity cost of schooling; yet, they have done so mostly neglecting the role of global forces as important determinants of education.

Within this line of research, a link between the empowerment of the masses and the development of publicly funded schooling has been highlighted (see Mitch 2013 for an extensive overview): In the case of nineteenth-century Prussia, Cinnirella and Hornung (2016) show that high landownership inequality hampered the diffusion of schooling; a similar argument is advanced by Beltrán Tapia and Martinez-Galarraga (2018) concerning pre-industrial, nineteenth-century Spain. Both articles are consistent with the hypothesis elaborated by Lindert (2004) and tested for the mid-nineteenth-century USA by Go and Lindert (2010). The authors find that more extended electoral franchise did result in increased school financing for publicly funded schools, although the final outcome was conditional on the concentration of decision-making power in the hand of elites—i.e., the existence of more or less restricted ruling classes. More mixed results are found for other countries. For example, in both Sweden and Austria in the long nineteenth century, there seems to be no quantitative evidence of a negative relationship between the strength of elites and schooling. Cvrcek and Zajicek (2019) explore a school reform undertaken in Imperial Austria in 1869. According to their analysis, large landowners were (mildly) in favor of school modernization, while urban and business interests supported public schooling. They find that the strongest opposition to promoting mass education came from rural areas, where the suffrage was most numerous. Similarly, Andersson and Berger (2018) support a traditional thesis in the historiography of Sweden’s development, arguing that landed elites advanced mass schooling as part of their historical role as patrons of the local community and as a response to the increasing proletarianization of the rural population. Land and income inequality—linked to capture by local elites—has been discussed as a main source of educational divergence between Latin America and the West by Lindert (2010), while inequality in the control over local institutions and decision making is found to have been a determinant of low comparative enrollment rates across BRICs economies in the early twentieth century (Chaudhary et al. 2012).

The evolving and varying nature of national school systems, as well as the impact of school reforms, also feature prominently in the literature. Although school acts in the nineteenth century aimed at establishing national rules concerning the organization of primary, often publicly funded mass education, local school autonomy was the norm until the last quarter of the century (Westberg et al. 2019); however, with the increasing strength of the nation-state, with more demand for education and with the growing role that human capital accumulation played in fostering technological progress, governments started to centralize education systems, resulting in larger state funding and a more direct management of schooling by central authorities. For example, Cinnirella and Schueler (2018) argue that federal-state spending consolidated the process of nation-building in Imperial Germany; Cappelli and Vasta (2019) show that the centralization of Liberal Italy’s primary school system improved the diffusion of literacy; similarly, Gomes and Cardoso-Marta Pinto-Machado (2019) argue that the massive construction of schools during part of the Estado Novo proved to be instrumental for the increase in literacy during the 1950s and early 1960s. By contrast, Peres-Cajías (2017) maintains that increased school spending in Bolivia following the 1952 revolution was not sustainable and did not translate into a more rapid pace of human capital accumulation. Cogneau and Moradi (2014) and Dupraz (forthcoming) focus on institutional shocks and their impact on education. They analyze, respectively, the partition of German Togo and Cameroon into British and French territories, to investigate whether diverging colonial school policies affected human capital accumulation. Both contributions find a positive premium related to British education policies across African territories. The topic is further discussed by Meier zu Selhausen in this book, who argues that the stance toward missionary schooling might be crucial to explain such a difference in educational outcomes across African countries before independence; however, the response by the African populations—in other words, African agency, affecting both the demand and supply of schooling—was a crucial determinant of educational outcomes.

Trade and export opportunities linked to openness and globalization, such as cash crop exports, are being studied as important determinants of education worldwide, increasing the incentive to acquire numerical and alphabetical skills, as well as improving the availability of school funding through increased public revenues. Chaudhary et al. (2012) discuss a positive correlation between cash crop trade and schooling in Brazil around 1900, while Cappelli and Baten (2017) argue that the regions of today’s Senegal that engaged more with peanut trade in the nineteenth century saw the most impressive growth of numeracy in the same period.

This literature embodies the potential of exploring the interaction between global and local forces in shaping education; yet, it also shows that most research on the historical drivers of schooling are still studied in a national or regional (mostly within-country) perspective. Despite the indisputable relevance of national school acts and local factors, a comprehensive overview of the global forces that affected national and local educational trends beyond the national perspective, particularly during phases of intense openness and integration, is still lacking.

Indeed, although mass schooling and globalization have not so clearly co-moved during specific historical phases—e.g., 1914–1945, when schooling kept rising despite crumbling international cooperation and economic integration—the link between globalization and education played a crucial role in shaping regional and national trends in human capital accumulation at times, through several possible channels.

The economic consequences of globalization are certainly important to this analysis: Insofar as globalization has promoted economic opportunity with rising living standards and has been associated with forces of modernization, one would expect its impact on popular education to have been positive. For example, the growing demand for skilled labor in the Americas and the ensuing mass migration from Europe might have prompted schooling and the acquisition of literacy skills; yet, insofar as globalization has been associated with economic divergence and with unequal socioeconomic power structures, it may have held back the diffusion of schooling, literacy and numeracy. Here, again, mass migration provides a good counterexample: Although the prospects of migrating abroad exerted a positive impact on the incentives to get schooled, some of the people leaving might have had human capital that was higher than what the average population possessed, thus resulting in a brain drain for the sending countries.

Global forces affecting education could include those arising from core regions or imperial agency in influencing the spread of schooling in the periphery. Such agency includes direct colonial rule and the impact of religious missionaries—even though recent analyses of colonial economic history attach growing importance to the choices made by native populations, who responded rapidly to changing conditions and opportunities. A related contrast is between centralized versus decentralized policies in facilitating universal access to schooling. Processes of modernization associated with globalization can be seen as influencing top-down, centralized campaigns to promote universal schooling. Today, the Millennial and Sustainable Development Goals aim to strengthen education across the world; more generally, processes of modernization can be seen as providing demonstration and guidelines for more educationally disadvantaged regions of the world. Likewise, the transnational circulation of ideas and studies on education, which characterized the late nineteenth century as much as the post-World War II period, certainly influenced schooling practices in peripheral economies.

Global forces strongly shape the response of each school system to the incentive provided by public intervention and can also shape variation in local responses with respect to choices made at the national level. For example, much has been made in the recent literature of the impact of landownership distribution and the concentration of power in the hand of restricted elites on school provision. Globalization has almost surely been associated with changes in the distribution of de jure and the facto power, which in turn has likely had implications for local public school finance and the supply of education.

Finally, it is worth noting that mutual interactions between globalization and education are likely to have been present. Globalization can affect incentives and resources and population redistribution influencing education levels, aggregate and in relative terms both positively and negatively; yet, clearly, rising education levels in turn can affect tendencies toward globalization by influencing migration flows and other flows of resources, as well as openness to economic change.

1.3 Exploring the Link Between Globalization and Mass Education: An Overview of the Volume

The book constitutes a first step toward a systematic, bird-eye analysis of the relationship between globalization and mass education in the very long run. The project is the result of several panels, conferences and meetings among economists, economic historians and historians investigating the determinants of schooling and human capital accumulation, particularly the Barcelona FRESH Meeting (2015), the “School Acts, the Rise of Mass Schooling and the Emerging Nation States during the Long Nineteenth Century” in Uppsala (2017), and the Stellenbosch (2012), Kyoto (2015) and Boston (2018) World Economic History Congresses.

The discussions and evidence generated by such meetings have been central in framing the common themes of the book, where each section addresses specific forces that affected mass education and human capital through openness and international flows of people, goods, capital, knowledge and ideas. The book relies on the experience and knowledge of several scholars who have worked on the topic of human skills and education over time and across world regions. The geographic focus of the project is, indeed, truly global. A lot of emphasis is placed on countries that do not belong to the group of the more advanced Western economies, which have been characterized by different paths of development throughout time: while addressing the main global forces driving education, several chapters focus on countries in the Southern and Northern European periphery, Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. Such broad set of countries has never been addressed by systematic accounts of the link between globalization and the rise of mass education.

The different sections of the volume address different broad questions, while the chapters included in each section delve more into the forces and factors prompting the diffusion of schooling and human capital formation that relate to such broad themes, mainly by relying on case studies.

The first section deals with the role played by global religious activity in the expansion of schooling. The literature has long emphasized the importance of colonial rule and postcolonial investments in education; yet, recent analyses have stressed the impact, as well as the long-lasting effects, of missionary activity and missionary schooling in rising enrollments and human capital. Although global waves of missionary expansion happened at different points in time depending on the world region, there is now a growing consensus on the fact that global religious activity led to persistent disparities in education across countries and within them, which are still discernible in the present day.

In Chapter  2, Felix Meier zu Selhausen discusses the most recent evidence on the link between colonial expansion and the spread of Christian missions in sub-Saharan Africa, exploring schooling disparities across African countries and gender educational inequality. Furthermore, following recent quantitative evidence, the chapter discusses the determinants of the location of missions in the region. Meier zu Selhausen underlines the importance of African agency in the rise of mass education, since the success of missionary schooling depended, more than on the supply of European missionaries, on the local demand for formal education and on the presence of African teachers—who represented the vast majority of teachers in the colonies. By doing so, Meier zu Selhausen provides a reassessment of missionary historical legacies on present-day African education and social mobility, underlining the crucial role played by African agency.

In Chapter  3, Felipe Valencia Caicedo discusses the long-term impact of missions in Latin America and Asia, with a specific focus on Mexico and South America. According to Valencia Caicedo, Catholic missionaries clearly constituted a first wave of global mass education. Missions belonging to different orders, particularly those who aimed at educating and forming the creole elites and the indigenous populations and covered a large share of the colonized territory—like the Guarani Jesuits in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries—caused an acceleration in human capital accumulation. By relying on new evidence and sources, Valencia Caicedo claims that, nowadays, the regions that experienced more intense missionary activity by the Guarani Jesuits are characterized by higher incomes and schooling compared to areas where the Jesuits did not operate. Similar results are discussed for the case of Mexico, and a comparison is also made between Latin America and Asia.

As such, both chapters in this section highlight the crucial role played by global educational waves in Africa, Latin America and Asia. Independently of the period that is analyzed, the diffusion of religious proselytism was accompanied by a global diffusion of schooling and education. The regional and international disparities that this global educational wave generated in the past are still visible in the present day.

The second section deals with the impact that colonial rule and local elites had on schooling. This section highlights that global forces can bring about contrasting impacts on schooling and human capital accumulation. Although a global force can prompt change in schooling and education, the eventual outcome will crucially depend on local conditions. Such interactions between global and local forces are shown to generate social and economic disparities across countries and regions within them.

In Chapter  4, Sun Go and Ki-Joo Park rely on this framework to discuss the rise of universal schooling in colonial Korea and Taiwan. Interestingly, although the Japanese colonial administrations implemented similar rules concerning education in Korea and Taiwan, the two school systems developed quite unevenly. In general, the diffusion of mass education was more successful in Taiwan. While previous literature has explained the Taiwanese lead in colonial education based on the relatively more collaborative attitude of the Taiwanese people and the relative and persistent importance of more traditional schooling in Korea, Go and Park show that the system of school funding played a crucial role. School funding in Taiwan was provided by different levels of government beyond the very local authorities, while in Korea the responsibility to fund education lay in the hands of the counties, which often lacked sufficient resources to be invested in education, allowing local elites who did not support schooling to hamper its funding.

Similarly, in Chapter  5, Irina España-Eljaiek focuses on the case of Colombia to explore how global trade influenced the rise of mass education in Latin America. Colombian education experienced a slow but consistent rise after the second half of the nineteenth century and through the mid-twentieth century; yet, subnational disparities in schooling tended to increase during this period. Using quantitative and qualitative evidence, España-Eljaiek convincingly argues that the export boom had a differential impact on subnational education due to the reproduction of racism. Specifically, in those regions with a larger proportion of non-white population, national and subnational elites implemented racist educational projects that did not favor the rise of social and school expenditure that could benefit the education of the non-white majority.

The third section explores several links between global migrations and human capital accumulation, particularly addressing the issue of whether migration brings about brain drain, or brain gain, in the receiving and sending countries. Brain gain, like brain drain, relates to various mechanisms. The migrants bring their human capital with them, a fact that will affect both the receiving and the sending countries—depending on how the migrants compare to the sending and receiving populations. Furthermore, the prospect of migrating at some point in time may increase the incentives to receive schooling and being literate and numerate, even though an individual may eventually decide against migrating abroad. Finally, large migration flows are associated with remittances, which can be used to pay school fees and, even in the presence of publicly provided schools, push down the opportunity cost of education.

In Chapter  6, Matteo Gomellini and Cormac Ó Gráda discuss the evidence on migration and human capital by studying Italy and Ireland in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, during the age of mass emigration from Europe to the Americas. Certainly, the authors argue, emigration improved the living standards of those who stayed behind. However, Gomellini and Ó Gráda focus mainly on the aggregate effect of emigration on education and human capital, addressing the question of whether mass migration prompted a brain gain or a brain drain in the sending countries. Contrary to the opinions expressed by coeval observers and policymakers, the analysis performed by Gomellini and Ó Gráda points to the likelihood of some mitigating brain gains through the impact of emigration and return migration on the stock of human capital of the two sending countries.

In Chapter  7, Johannes Westberg provides insights into the relationships between schooling, emigration and economic development in the peculiar case of Sweden in the age of mass migration—a country marked by sustained economic growth, high rates of emigration, and high school enrollments and literacy. Westberg argues that, since literacy was widespread at that time, substantial emigration did not affect the endowment of human capital. Instead, provided that outward migrants came from rural areas, they lacked academic or vocational education that was more likely to benefit economic growth. Furthermore, Westberg finds evidence of skilled return migration, that is, migrants that improved their human capital abroad and came back to Sweden, contributing to important sectors of the economy: more than 70 percent of the technical engineers who had migrated returned to Sweden. Finally, an indirect positive effect of mass emigration relates to rising wages, which prompted structural changes and reforms in both the agrarian and industrial sectors.

In Chapter  8, Bruno Witzel de Souza explores how German schools affected educational performance amidst Brazilian coffee plantations, from 1840 to 1940. While the literature has emphasized the long-lasting positive impact of immigration of human capital formation in Brazil, little is known about the actual mechanism through which migrant schools influenced local schooling. To deal with this issue, Witzel de Souza investigates the educational strategies adopted by German-speaking immigrants in the state of São Paulo. He argues that the Germans were a minority that, nonetheless, strongly influenced local developments in schooling in a positive way.

These three chapters, together, highlight the crucial role that migration played in human capital formation during the age of mass migration. The mobility of people, and the ensuing flows between the mid-nineteenth century and World War I, influenced the receiving and sending countries directly through the gain or loss of skills possessed by the migrants. Furthermore, the set of incentives and opportunities in specific regions of the Atlantic economy were heavily affected by the contact and mixing of various populations, as the case of German migrant schools in San Paulo, Brazil, clearly demonstrates.

The fourth and final section of the book deals with the global flows of ideas and views concerning education and school systems. Western-style education influenced the diffusion of mass schooling in countries that were either subject to foreign rule or that strived to compete in the global economic arena, where human capital was recognized to be growingly important.

In Chapter  9, Nancy Beadie argues that, after the Civil War, political leaders in the USA promoted a national policy of mass education as a strategy of economic development for the impoverished and defeated agricultural South, and as a means of economic and political integration for the nation as a whole. National leaders came to see education in global terms, as a system that could be exported to colonial territories. By 1900, Beadie argues, some of the same federal officials who promoted a national system of education in the USA in the 1870s and 1880s were busy “spreading the empire of free education” in Puerto Rico, Cuba and the Philippines. Therefore, education represented a crucial aspect of public policy that served to consolidate the US rule domestically and abroad.

In Chapter  10, Gao shows how Western ideas and institutions conditioned China’s path to formal mass education—the transformation from traditional Confucius teaching to modern national education at the dawn of the twentieth century. Interestingly, Gao argues that, contrary to the conventional wisdom, China’s new education system did not rise from a strong state; it did so, instead, from political chaos. The withering of an old regime and the ongoing process of state formation provided local elites some windows of opportunity that they could exploit to consolidate their social and political role—which was done by funding and supporting the new school system.

In Chapter  11, David Mitch discusses the achievement of nearly universal literacy in Iran. According to Mitch, global ideas inspired the aims of secularization and Westernization that led Iran’s leaders, Reza Pahlavi and his son, Mohammad, to see education as a means of nation-building and securing popular support for their regimes. The surprising continuity in the spread of literacy and primary schooling after the 1979 Islamic Revolution can be attributed to Ayatollah Khomeini’s perception that an education based on Islamic values was the appropriate response and antidote to the decadence of Iranian society, which he attributed to Western and global secular influences.

The cases of the USA, China and Iran suggest that immaterial factors linked to the form and functioning of education and the organization of the school system, like ideas and views concerning education policy, proved relevant in more than one instance, interacting with local conditions to determine school outcomes in the long run. Both chapters underline the role that education played as a policy tool, more than as an objective of public decision making itself, and how it was used to pursue political goals globally—by US governments—and locally, by the Chinese elite emerging during the early twentieth-century process of state formation, as well as Iran’s leaders in the attempt to consolidate their political power.

1.4 Summary: A Global Perspective on the Rise of Mass Education

What emerges from the various contributions included in the volume is a prominent role of globalization in the rise of mass schooling, which played out at different times in history. The key element, common to most chapters of this book, is the centrality of the interaction between global forces and local conditions in determining educational outcomes and long-term human capital accumulation. While school acts and national factors are central to understand the evolution of school systems, education and human capital accumulation, the globalization-education nexus integrates previous analyses by taking transnational and global determinants of schooling into account.

Workers brought whatever human capital they possessed from Europe to the Americas in the age of mass migration, and the prospect of migrating in the future influenced school-related decisions in the origin countries, mitigating a potential brain drain—which was thought to brought about dire consequences for society and the economy at home. This is a result that is common to the analyses of Ireland, Italy and Sweden in the second half of the nineteenth century and up to World War I. The results concerning German-speaking migrants moving to Brazil also highlight a positive impact of incoming migration on the schooling and human capital of the receiving countries.

At the same time, religious orders spread schooling and literacy as means to convert colonized populations to Christianity—in the Americas, in Asia and in Africa; missionary activity had a large impact on the receiving populations, in a context characterized by immense human and economic costs for the subject communities. The impact on long-term human capital accumulation is found to be positive, at least in the contexts of Latin America and Asia. Evidence on the impact of religious missions in Africa is more mixed: The literature and original findings presented in this book highlight the central role of African populations, who provided the bulk of the human—and often economic—resources to support the diffusion of Western-style schooling across the continent. Local conditions and agency were crucial toward the expansion of schooling.

The importance of local conditions is also highlighted by the history of education in colonial Taiwan and Korea, as well as Colombia. Colonial administrations aimed to consolidate their control over annexed territories by increasing educational supply. However, the two case studies analyzed in this book show that the success of this strategy depended on views concerning society and education, as well as specific institutional features. Schooling and education were improving in Colombia, but regions that were racially more segregated from the rest of the country lagged behind. There, missionaries seem to have adapted to this policy and vision of schooling, a choice that did not bring about positive improvements in human capital accumulation.

Likewise, the school system imposed by Japanese colonization in Korea failed to bring about more rapid human capital accumulation, due to capture by local elites reinforced by the traditional reliance on local counties for school funding; instead, funding by different government levels in Taiwan was associated with a more remarkable improvement in the financing of public schools, fostering the diffusion of education.

The global–local interaction is a feature that links twentieth-century China with colonial Korea and Taiwan. Western-style education, mirrored by Japan’s Meiji reforms, influenced the changes that brought about modern public schooling across areas of the country. However, local elites played a role in this process of change: They sought to strengthen schooling as a way to assert their prestige and power in the eye of the public, in a phase characterized by the decline of former, traditional structures of governance. Thus, the global flows of ideas on what modern education was set to become in the twentieth century and the very local dynamics that characterized China’s society, politics and economy were strongly linked. The case of Iran highlights similar interactions between Western ideas concerning education and the local attempt by the country’s leaders to consolidate their regimes—both before and after the Islamic Revolution of 1979.

The findings on US education policy following the Civil War highlight another important, often neglected, aspect of schooling-related bills and public discourses, that is, their importance as a tool fostering political convergence and mediation over issues concerning society and the economy. In late nineteenth-century USA, federal policies serving capital interests were justified by the social benefits that resulting funds could confer on education. At the turn of the twentieth century, the USA extended this logic into colonial contexts, with more success at establishing federal education abroad than it experienced at home. However, while the continental USA failed to pass a federal education system, as long as the possibility existed that funds realized from public land sales, resource extraction and tariff duties could be directed to support education, that possibility helped sustain the convergence of interests necessary to keep domestic and colonial economic policies in place.

Future research, we hope, will depart from these preliminary and stimulating results, to explore the relationship between globalization and education more systematically. The systematic analysis of selection into migration and the resulting brain gains or drain still has a long way to go, while studies aimed at measuring the impact of missions and colonial administrations on schooling should aim at incorporating local agency and the role of communities that were subject to foreign rule and influences. More generally, the global forces resulting from labor, capital and goods market integration represent a fruitful ground to explore the relationship between international and transnational determinants of education and the local forces that tried to shape its evolution more directly and explicitly through public policy.


  1. 1.

    Data come from the World Bank: (accessed June 12, 2019).



We want to thank the authors of this volume. Their contributions have made this project possible, and the outcome reflects their professionalism, expertise and deep knowledge of the subject. We truly appreciate the time, effort and motivation that they put in writing the chapters, even when under the pressure of time. We thank all the participants of the Stellenbosch, Kyoto and Boston World Economic History Congresses, where some of the material included in the book was first presented. We are particularly grateful to Latika Chaudhary Hartmann, who discussed some of the papers at our session “The Impact of Globalization on the Rise of Mass Schooling,” co-organized with Sun Go, at the World Economic History Congress in Boston (2018). We also wish to thank our editors at Palgrave Macmillan—Laura Pacey, Clara Heathcock and Ruth Noble—for believing in this project, and for solid assistance and support during the writing of the book. Gabriele Cappelli also acknowledges financial support from the Spanish Ministry for Science and Innovation, project HAR2016-76814-C2-1-P, as well as the Swedish Research Council, project 2016-05230.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Economics and StatisticsUniversity of SienaSienaItaly
  2. 2.Economics DepartmentUniversity of MarylandSilver SpringUSA

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