Human Capital Formation

The subproject ‘Human capital, agency and the world economy’ aims to answer questions relating to global inequalities in human capital formation and agency, with a specific interest in (the persistence) of gender disparities therein. Agency – the power of individuals to make meaningful life decisions – is considered a key ingredient of empowerment (Sen 1999; Kabeer 1999; Kabeer 2005). ‘Human capital formation’ – measured as educational attainment – is regarded as both a crucial factor in developing agency, as well as an essential component of economic development. This project studies these interrelationships in-depth on a global scale between the period of 1850 – from  the onset of mass education in the West – and 2000. The human capital formation and agency of women is of specific interest, because of their crucial role in socialization and the production of human capital of a new generation (see e.g. Behrman and Wolfe 1987; Barrera 1990).

The research centres around three focal points:

  1. To develop a historical method of measuring the agency of women (a team effort);
  2. Patterns of persistence of gender gaps in education and differences therein between countries;
  3. The question of reversed causality between agency and education.

The interaction between agency and human capital will be studied at two interrelated levels: at the global level, analyzing differences between countries with the goal of unveiling macro patterns, and at the case study level, in which a few countries are scrutinized and macro level hypotheses are further investigated. For this type of research international collaboration is essential. Co-operation with country experts working at both micro and macro levels is needed to elaborate concepts and theories of historical agency. The data gathering process requires extensive co-operation, both to build new datasets or to share existing ones. This research is backed by a platform promoting such international co-operation: the Clio-Infra data structure - a research infrastructure for the study of global economic growth and inequality between 1500 and 2000.

This research is being conducted by Lotte van der Vleuten at the Radboud University, Nijmegen.