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Structural change, employment and education in four countries in Sub-Saharan Africa

Theo Sparreboom (International Labour Office, Geneva, Switzerland)

African Journal of Economic and Management Studies

ISSN: 2040-0705

Article publication date: 12 June 2017




The purpose of this paper is to explore the relationship between advances in educational attainment on the one hand, and structural change in employment on the other, in four countries in Sub-Saharan Africa for selected periods.


The paper is based on a decomposition of changes in education intensity, which is complemented by an analysis of rates of return to education. For all countries the analysis is based on labour market microdata from nationally representative household surveys, and on economic data from national accounts.


It is demonstrated that if countries want to exploit structural change, levels of education need to rise. Low levels of education explain why the increase in educational attainment in Tanzania was barely sufficient to keep up with structural change in this country, and Mozambique would have been in the same situation if structural change would have occurred. In Ghana and Namibia, levels of educational attainment are much higher, and the paper demonstrates how education was used differently to accommodate structural change in these countries. Rates of return to education in all four countries appear consistent with patterns of education intensity.

Research limitations/implications

The analysis demonstrates that labour market monitoring should not be limited to (broad) sectoral aggregates. The analysis of more detailed breakdowns of employment is needed to gain insights into economies and labour markets of countries, including with regard to the role of education.


The paper is original in that an identical methodology is used in four African countries to decompose changes in education intensity, to relate these changes to employment patterns and to calculate rates of return to education. Although such work has been undertaken in individual countries, it is rarely done in a comparative way.



Sparreboom, T. (2017), "Structural change, employment and education in four countries in Sub-Saharan Africa", African Journal of Economic and Management Studies, Vol. 8 No. 2, pp. 172-185.



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