We conducted statistical modeling and multiple regression to assess the association of national education spending and youth literary rates using data sets of 189 World Bank member countries. Top finalists at the Harvard Student Research Symposium.
Our Primary Research Questions
What is the relationship between education spending and youth literacy rate controlling for a country’s average years of schooling, primary pupil to teacher ratio, and development status?
Does the relationship between education spending and youth literacy rate differ by development status controlling for average years of schooling and primary pupil to teacher ratio?
Our analysis of the 2015 HDR dataset compiled by the UNDP sought to investigate the relationship between education spending and youth literacy rate. We were specifically interested in examining this relationship across development status controlling for average years of schooling and primary pupil to teacher ratio. Our study found a statistically significant association between education spending and youth literacy rate, as well as evidence indicating that this association differs according to a country’s development status. Spending more on education in developing countries indicates a statistically significant improvement of youth literacy rates, while developing countries exhibited a negative association where increased education spending in developed countries posed negative effects on youth literacy rate. As a result, we recommend that developing countries direct their education policy towards increasing education spending while developed countries critically reassess their investment and allocation strategies for education spending.
We first investigated the uncontrolled association between these variables and found a statistically significant, positive association, where a doubling in education spending predicted a 4.91 percentage point increase in youth literacy rate.
Controlling for average years of schooling and primary pupil to teacher ratio, a doubling of education spending in developing countries predicted a 3.25 percentage point increase in youth literacy rate. This finding suggests that in developing countries, education spending is positively associated with youth literacy rate. But more surprisingly, a doubling of education spending under similar conditions in developed countries predicted a 1.74 percentage point decrease in youth literacy rate. It appears that increased education spending in developed countries is associated with negative outcomes on youth literacy rate.
While our findings indicate a statistically significant relationship between education spending and youth literacy rate, we cannot conclude a causal relationship between these variables.
Dataset limitations cannot be generalized for all World Bank countries due to the exclusion of 89 countries in response to missing data. Although a sample of 100 countries is substantial, the particularities of the countries included, such as greater prioritization of education, may generate biases in our study.
Available data provided neither a gender inclusive literacy statistic nor a weighting by gender, and we had the option of selecting either male or female literacy rate as the outcome variable. Because women’s educational opportunities are more heavily influenced by geographic, cultural, and religious contexts, male youth literacy rate serves as a more reliable measure for examining the controlled association between education spending and literacy. However, the conclusions drawn from examining the youth literacy of males rather than the aggregate of both males and females limit the scope and validity of our findings. Furthermore, though the outcome we examined was exclusive to male youth, our predictors reflected data on both sexes.