Fading Legacies: Human Capital in the Aftermath of the Partitions of Poland

This paper studies the longevity of historical legacies in human capital. The Partitions of Poland (1772-1918) represent a natural experiment that instilled Poland with three different legacies of education, resulting in sharp differences in human capital among the Polish population. I construct a large, unique dataset that reflects the state of schooling and human capital in the partition territories from 1911 to 1961. Using a spatial regression discontinuity design, I find that primary school enrollment differs by as much as 80 percentage points between the partitions before WWI. However, this legacy disappears within the following two decades of Polish independence, as all former partitions achieve universal enrollment. Differences in educational infrastructure and gender access to schooling simultaneously disappear after WWI. The level of literacy converges likewise across the former partitions, driven by a high intergenerational mobility in education. After WWII, the former partitions are not distinguishable from each other anymore.

That is from Andreas Backhaus, a job market candidate from University of Munich.


Thanks. There appear to be other countries where this kind of deep history is still visible in maps of voting or educational attainment. Did poor Poland just get hammered so hard in the 20th Century that the effects of partition in 1795-1918 disappeared?

If you look at election results and political preferences there still seems to be a difference between the German/Austrian Polands and Russian Poland, but it may just be the urban vs rural divide as the former Russian parts of Poland remain less industrialized, less urbanized and poorer, Warsaw excepted obviously.

Re electoral maps, how clear is it that the line you are seeing is Kaiser/Tsar, not 1919 vs 1945 borders? What's now western poland was I think largely re-populated with people moved from east of the molotov-ribbentrop line. It would not be surprising if they have different views from their longer-settled neighbours.

What's up, this weekend is pleasant designed for me, since this moment i
am reading this great educational piece of writing here at my home.

Natural experiments are likely to be ill designed experiments.

Skimming the figures, you can see the large discontinuities wash out in steps 1911-1921-1931, and then the last bit gone in 1961. So it's not about population movements post-1945.

And from the maps, the regions on both sides of the ex-borders being compared are entirely within both 1920s and 1960s poland.

Here's another paper arguing that the differences persist even today.

This paper argues about quality, the paper on top about quantity.

Another paper found poverty persists in the Potosi, Bolivia silver mines even for 400 years since the Spanish colonized the region. Since Pb/Ag are found together, I've speculated it's due to persistent lead in the environment, which makes the people retarded. But it's a quality argument, since the differences are subtle.

Bonus trivia: Fernand Braudel has a phrase about initial conditions and history: he calls it 'the heavy hand of history', stuff persists. Now back to my regularly scheduled programming, I'm watching the tiebreaker in the World Chess Championship match.

Another gene pool blog post? Since the former partitions are no longer distinguishable, was there an overall leveling up or an overall leveling down?

Neither. The prussians & austrians introduced primary schools a few decades earlier than did russia. After independence the polish authorities spread it everywhere. That's all, I think.

You don't think things might have been influenced just a little by mass slaughters and imposed, sweeping population movements?

Makes you wonder how they even defined 'Poland.'

these areas were not affected much by population movements, more the ones further to the west. surely there were mass slaughters, but shouldn't they rather depress than increase education after ww2?

'these areas were not affected much by population movements'

Tell that to all of those people who used to live in Poland in places with names like Breslau or Danzig. Of course, you are welcome to pick and choose if either of those cities are historically Polish (hint - one pretty much is, one pretty much isn't).

Defining 'Poland' is exceedingly hard, and has been for centuries.

TFA has maps of the areas they consider. They pick a zone across the prussian/russian border, and another for austrian/russian. Everything is within both the 1919 and 1945 borders.

No doubt there were a few germans expelled from these areas in 1945, and no doubt quite a few poles were moved there too (from the east). But they have chosen about the least-messy regions you could hope for in poland.

Gdansk is basically the oldest Polish city, and there were more than a few Germans expelled.

Wroclaw, today Poland's 4th largest city, only became an official part of Poland after 1945, and there were more than a few Germans living in Breslau before that change.

As for the maps - Figure 1 excludes Wroclaw by its definition, while Figure 4, unlike Figure 1, seems to exclude Gdansk. (Figure 1 seems to include the coast, Figure 4 doesn't.)

Though it is reasonable to assume that the author knows what they are looking at, the maps do not help much.

Defining 'Poland' is really tricky, especially as Danzig was most definitely part of the Prussian Empire, along with being the oldest Polish city.

The less said about Silesia - which included Breslau - the better. Basically, a large number of ethnically complex regions became considerably less complex by the end of the 1940s, a process that started in 1918.

the paper says at some point that the resettled territories are not part of the sample. figure 1 shows the empires in the polish borders, figures 3 and 4 the sample. silesia is also excluded.

Human capital is in the title of the article but the data is the primary school enrollment/literacy rate.

The initial shock is caused by being divided among Prussians, Russians and Austrians:

"While primary enrollment is universal in the Prussian Empire, it barely reaches 20% in the Russian partition. Also the Austrian partition exhibits substantially higher enrollment than the Russian partition, but it is far apart from providing universal schooling."

Parents are important, but when universal education is set up...

"there is only a weak causal link between the human
capital of parents and that of their children during an expansion of mandatory education. In Poland, the intergenerational transmission of human capital was to a large extent overridden by the sudden increase in primary school enrollment after WWI...This result underlines the ability of a public education system to achieve a sustained transformation of a society’s state of education by generating upward mobility in human capital."

Albeit, it takes a lifetime to see the results:

"this paper find that it takes about 50 years or two generations for comparable measures of human capital to converge."

Very interesting paper. It is also interesting to look at Poland since libe2.3ration from Russian control, especially since Poland outperforms the EU average on the PISA tests and in 2017 had a real GDP growth rate of 4.6% twice the 2.3% EU average. In 2014, the Pearson/Economist Intelligence Unit rated Polish education as 5th best in Europe and 10th best in the world. According to Wikipedia "The Polish Education system for primary school aged children is centred around a pedogogical style that focuses on the learning of facts and does not involve the concept of exploration or investigation, individuality and opinions are inconsequential. Maybe a lesson to be learned there.

Nevertheless, individual schools have high levels of autonomy per the OECD: "More decisions are made at school level in Poland than in other OECD countries (Figure 7). For example Polish schools decide on teaching practices, assessment policies, course content, hiring of teaching staff and distribution of merit-based and needs-based scholarships. " (See page 15 at http://www.oecd.org/education/POL-country-profile.pdf ). Another lesson to be learned.

And Poland of course offers fine vocational educational alternatives: "Around 49% of students enrol in upper secondary vocational programmes. Students can attend technical upper secondary schools (four years), which also offer the university entrance certificate (matura), or basic vocationalschools (three years). Both types of schools lead to vocational qualifications. Upper secondary graduates can
pursue further VET in post-secondary non-tertiary schools. VET is also provided in State Schools of Higher Vocational Education, part of the higher education system." Something to be admired.

And although Poland has fewer primary school students in non-public institutions than the OECD average, since liberation from the Soviet Union, private higher education has blossomed. According to The Guardian:

"After the fall of communism, one aspect of capitalism embraced with fervour in Poland was privatised education. Before the fall of the Berlin Wall there was just one private university, run by the Catholic church. Now more than a third of Poland's students are educated outside the state system.

Around 300 private universities – some small enough to share premises with local schools – educate about 630,000 students a year, the highest private-sector enrolment in Europe. Unlike their fellow students at public universities, they have to pay fees, though both kinds of students are eligible for state-backed loans. And unlike public universities, their institutions do not receive any direct government funding."

Definitely a model for the higher education reform in the USA that is so desparately needed.


Link to The Guardian article. Recommended.

+1, informative

here is a map of the election results of Poland in 2010:

The black line is the 1939 German-Polish border.
Election results are pretty much EXACTLY divided along this border Hardly any of today's voter was even alive when this border was moved in 1945.
I find this striking.

Yes, that is indeed striking.

I have to correct myself:
Actually, the black line is the 1918 German border.
Which makes this result even more striking.
What mechanism can there be, that makes the two regions behave that differently?
It can't be any obvious ethnic regions. All parts of modern day Poland are ethnically polish. Hardly any German minorities remain in any part of Poland. And in any case: 20th century Poland has experienced more population movement (voluntary as well as forced) than any other country in Europe. And yet: this old border is still highly visible in today's election results. What's going on here?

Some Albion's Seed type stuff. That's all I got.

they do RDD with these elections and doesn't find discontinuities, so what you see is a smooth change in election results, although the map suggests differently

Germans are outsized influencers? The German-settled areas of my state are still easily-distinguishable for their relative tidiness. You could do a map like this, with abandoned mobile homes and junked vehicles as the variable.

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