Why is Portugal lagging behind all other European countries in educational attainment?

Average Years of Total Schooling in 27 countries, 1950-2010, Population 25 and over (Source: Barro and Lee)

I don’t have the answer. I have just been playing with Barro and Lee’s dataset on education attainment. As the name indicates, it covers education attainment in 146 countries between 1950 and 2010 for different age groups. The two charts above show the average years of schooling of the population 25 and over since 1950 in 27 countries. I know that the first graph ┬áis difficult to read, but the point is to show Portugal’s outlier status in comparison with all other European countries. With 7.73 years of schooling on average, the Portuguese workforce was the least qualified in the EU in 2010; the average for the countries showed in the graph is 10.62. Portugal started below everybody else in 1950 (compulsory schooling under Salazar was 4 years, and many were simply not enrolled) but I cannot really understand why it is still lagging behind Spain, which started from a similar position, namely a long fascist dictatorship keen on maintaining a docile and uneducated populace.


The three graphs below show the population (25 and over) between 1950 and 2010 in Portugal, Spain, and Sweden (as a point of comparison for “advanced” countries) by highest degree attained (but not necessarily completed). Even if a higher proportion of the Spanish population had no schooling at all in 1950, this share has been reduced dramatically while it has remained at high levels in Portugal. According to the data, 11.5% of the Portuguese population had no schooling at all in 2010, and 46% had gone through primary schooling only. The corresponding numbers are 1.6 and 25% in Spain, and 1.6 and 11% in Sweden. This happens in spite of the fact that Portugal has a fairly low student-teacher ratio and has invested massively in education over the past few decades. However, as the number of PhDs has exploded, the problem of low skills at the bottom is still huge. As we know, low productivity is a big problem in Southern Europe, and this is probably strongly related to low education levels. Cuts in spending certainly won’t help to solve this problem.


How Strong Are British Trade Unions, Really?

In Wednesday’s Prime Minister’s Questions, David Cameron presented Unite’s Leader Len McCluskey as the real master of the Labour party. Len McCluskey is the alien creature about to take over the country with his horde of commies, the new Goldstein. But how powerful are British unions, really?

One can think of two ways to measure union strength: their representation within the workforce (union density), and their participation in public policymaking (how routinely they are involved in day-to-day decision-making). Jelle Visser’s database at the university of Amsterdam has data on these two things since 1960.

British union are weak compared to similar countries. Union density is higher than in France and Germany but way below Sweden.However, the real weakness of British unions is the lack of any significant institutional involvement in decision-making processes. This influence has been totally curtailed since Margaret Thatcher and hasn’t been restored under New labour: the lack of a bar does not represent missing data but a zero as decade average. When it comes to what we call concertation, (or the institutionalised participation of unions in policymaking), union influence in the UK is much weaker than anywhere else in Europe.

Now, this may be explained in part by the strong ties the trade unions have with the Labour party: when party-union ties are strong, it may be more rational for unions to lobby Labour rather than engage in direct negotiations with the government and/or employers like in other countries (there is a good paper comparing Denmark and Sweden about this here). However, it deprives them from any influence when Labour is not in power. Arguably, if Labour cuts its links with the unions, it may become more important for unions to institutionalize regular channels of influence within government, such as the tripartite bodies one finds in Continental Europe or at EU level. However, the window of opportunity for this seems to be long gone. Shameless plug: I discuss these issues here.

Union density, 1960-2010. Source: ICTWSS database, University of Amsterdam: http://www.uva-aias.net/208
Involvement of trade unions in decision-making, decade averages. 2 = full concertation, regular and frequent involvement. 1 = partial concertation, irregular and infrequent involvement. 0 = non concertation, involement is rare or absent. Source: ICTWSS, University of Amsterdam: http://www.uva-aias.net/208.