Labor is (relatively) very expensive in Africa: the case of teachers

This is from Justin Sandefur over at CGD:

Teachers in poor countries earn far more, in relative terms, than teachers in the OECD—and several recent studies suggest their pay isn’t linked to skills or performance. But we also have growing evidence that high-quality teachers generate huge economic returns. The question is how to ensure high pay attracts high quality.

…. This may come as a bit of a surprise to many rich-country readers. There’s no doubt that teachers in, say, India earn much less than teachers in Ireland, but relative to context, they tend to be very well paid. Dividing by per capita GDP is a rough and ready way to put salaries in context. With the help of my research assistant Mallika Snyder, we pulled together teacher salaries from as many countries as possible and ranked them in terms of their ratio to per capita GDP.


And this is from a World Bank report:

After controlling for a number of factors—such as income per capita, cost of living, firm size, and sector of activity— we see that labor costs in Africa are at least 10 percent higher than they are in East Asia, while South Asia retains its strong comparative advantage over Africa with around 40 percent lower labor costs.

….. in nominal terms, without controlling for any other factors—the South and East Asian regions enjoy a labor cost advantage over Africa of 25 percent and 60 percent, respectively.

On productivity: Workers in low-income countries work longer (for less)

You probably knew that already, but here is the data from Bick, Fuchs-Schundeln, and Lagakos in the AER:

This paper builds a new internationally comparable database of hours worked to measure how hours vary with income across and within countries. We document that average hours worked per adult are substantially higher in low-income countries than in high-income countries. The pattern of decreasing hours with aggregate income holds for both men and women, for adults of all ages and education levels, and along both the extensive and intensive margin. Within countries, hours worked per worker are also decreasing in the individual wage for most countries, though in the richest countries, hours worked are flat or increasing in the wage. One implication of our findings is that aggregate productivity and welfare differences across countries are larger than currently thought.Screen Shot 2018-01-24 at 7.57.32 AM

… Our main finding is that average hours worked per adult are substantially higher in low-income countries (the bottom third of the world income distribution) than in high-income countries (the top third). In low-income countries, adults work 28.5 hours per week on average, compared to 19.0 hours per week in high-income countries.

Read the whole thing here (gated). Here is the ungated version.

Unlocking productivity gains is a challenge to policymakers in low-income states:

One implication of our findings is that aggregate labor productivity and TFP differences across countries are larger than previously thought. Moreover, ignoring hours worked also leads to misleading conclusions about the extent of welfare differences across countries. Put simply, residents of the poorest countries are not only consumption poor, but leisure poor as well.