Schooling and Political Participation in a Neoclassical Framework: Theory and Evidence

CID Faculty Working Paper No. 178

Filipe R. Campante, Davin Chor
September 2008


We investigate how the link between individual schooling and political participation is affected by country characteristics. We introduce a focus on a set of variables - namely factor endowments - which influence the relative productivity of human capital in political versus production activities. Using micro data on individual behavior, we find that political participation is more responsive to schooling in land-abundant countries, and less responsive in human capital-abundant countries, even while controlling for country political institutions and cultural attitudes. We develop these ideas in a model where individuals face an allocation decision over the use of their human capital. A relative abundance of land (used primarily in the least skill-intensive sector) or a scarcity of aggregate human capital will increase both the level of political participation and its responsiveness to schooling, by lowering the opportunity cost of production income foregone. In an extension, we further consider the problem of how much schooling a utility-maximizing ruler would choose to provide. An abundance of land tends to increase political participation ex post, and hence will lead the ruler to discourage human capital accumulation, a prediction for which we find broad support in the cross-country data. Our model thus offers a framework which jointly explains patterns of political participation at the individual level and differences in public investment in education at the country level.

Keywords: Education; Human capital; Political participation; Voting; Factor endowments; Culture; State provision of schooling

JEL subject codes: D72, D78, I20, I21, O15