Most economic decisions taken by individuals are forward-looking and are therefore shaped by the desire or ambition to achieve a goal; but little is known about how aspirations shape decision-making. This paper partly addresses this gap, using a rich longitudinal dataset following a cohort of children in Ethiopia for more than a decade between the ages of 8 and 19. The paper investigates the role of early aspirations for human-capital investments in a context of poverty, traditional social expectations and gender roles. More specifically, it focuses on three related questions. First, it examines the relationship between aspirations and boys’ and girls’ educational attainment, as an indicator of cumulative investments in education. Second, it looks at how parents and children form their aspirations and at the transmission of aspirations from one generation to the other. Third, it explores the gender-based bias in aspirations, and investigates whether an initial bias which favours boys might constitute a source of gender-inequality perpetuation, particularly in a context of extreme poverty.
The paper presents the following findings:
- Aspirations have a strong predictive power for later educational attainment, particularly for boys, who are more likely to drop out of school after the age of 15.
- There is a substantial gender gap in aspirations and a steep gradient in aspirations across wealth.
- Parents ground their aspirations on their expectations about their children’s future when they are 12 years old.
- Children’s aspirations mirror parental aspirations.
- Initial low aspirations might be a mechanism whereby gender inequality is perpetuated among the poorest segments of the population.
- Parents and children revise their aspirations over time, adapting to external circumstances and social expectations, so that after the age of 15 the pro-boys gender bias in aspirations is reversed.
Favara, M. Young Lives Working Paper. Aspirations and Educational Attainments of Ethiopian Boys and Girls. Young Lives, Department of International Development at the University of Oxford, Oxford, UK (2016) 32 pp. ISBN 978-1-909403-61-1