Educational Attainment and School-to-Work Conversion of Roma in Romania

Kosko, Stacy J. (2010). "Educational Attainment and School-to-Work Conversion of Roma in Romania" Paper presented at the 7th annual conference of the HDCA, 21-23 September 2010, Amman, Jordan.

The right to education is enshrined in numerous international declarations and treaties. It is also one of the surest ways for individuals to expand their own set of valuable capabilities and, as a source of dignity and even joy, can be inherently valuable. Unfortunately, for many Europeans, the promise of a rich education remains unrealized. This crisis is especially acute for Europe’s eight to ten million Roma, or “Gypsies”, a great many of whom never complete primary, let alone secondary, school. This lack of education is both a cause and a consequence of the severe social, economic and political marginalization many Roma face. However, few empirical studies have examined this issue. This paper calls into question the assumption that educational opportunity is something that all “have reason to value” if it does not bring clear benefits—for example future income—if at the same time it interrupts the pursuit of other valuable opportunities, such as those for present income. While perhaps not a silver bullet, education may be one of the most powerful weapons available to combat exclusion, poverty, and abuse. It is also crucial to developing the critical agency necessary to recognize and pursue the things in life that one values and has reason to value. Yet the opportunity to expand one’s capability set through education is enjoyed unevenly by Roma and non-Roma, not only because of differences in quality but because Roma “pursue” fewer years of education. Clearly, the severe imbalance between average years of education among Roma and non-Roma contributes to Roma poverty and marginalization. Thus, one important policy question is whether Roma are actually receiving less education than non-Roma once we account for factors such as poverty, or whether it is that the poor are receiving less education and that the Roma account for many of the poor. Either case represents a failure on the part of the government to meet its human rights obligations, but there is something particularly troubling about the wholesale educational marginalization of a particular ethnic group, poverty notwithstanding. There is also evidence that, even given the same number of years of schooling, Roma are still less able to convert that education into gainful employment. Given the value of education in expanding one’s real capability set, this dampened school-to-work conversion among Roma might be one source of so many Roma individuals’ “revealed preference” to consume less education. This paper explores two questions which aim to assist the Romanian government in identifying the most effective policies for increasing educational attainment among its most disadvantaged group. Relying on 2002 census data from Romania—the country with the largest Roma population in Europe—I first test whether Romanian Roma complete primary education at the same rate as non-Roma and find that being Roma reduces the odds of finishing eighth grade by 96 percent. Even when 2 important factors such as native language and income are accounted for, being Roma still reduces the odds of attaining primary education by a staggering 76.8 percent. Next, this study seeks to explain this difference: Do Roma simply not “value” education? I hypothesize that the high opportunity cost of education (due to the extreme poverty many Roma face) combined with perceptions of low returns to education (due to comparatively high unemployment levels and low average wages) decreases the incentive to stay in school and can result in a rational calculus to drop out. Put another way, Roma may have less reason to value education in the face of immediate deprivation. Logistic regressions reveal that the odds of being employed at all are 65 percent lower for Roma and remain 57 percent lower even when I control for a variety of factors including education. Roma also have two and a half times the odds of winding up in unskilled labor regardless of education level; that figure jumps to six times the odds if we remove the controls. I hypothesize that one omitted variable that could be driving these results might be discrimination in hiring. Another might be differences in the quality of education, with many Roma being sent to “special schools” for children with learning disabilities. This study reveals that not only are Roma completing fewer years of schooling than similarly situated non-Roma, they are less able to convert that education into gainful employment, a fact that compounds and perpetuates existing inequalities between groups. If the government wishes to increase educational attainment of Roma, it should take into account the problem of disrupted school-to-work conversion. Further, this evidence provides an alternative to the often heard explanation that Roma do not “value” education and instead forces us to ask whether the education they are receiving is something that they should “have reason to value” if it does not result in an expanded capability set, especially given the high opportunity cost of secondary schooling.
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