‘Every Catholic Child in a Catholic School’: Historical Resistance to State Schooling, Contemporary Private Competition and Student Achievement across Countries*


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     We are grateful to Charles Glenn for providing important background information, to Elke Luedemann and Gabriela Schuetz for their contributions in preparing the PISA 2003 database and to two anonymous referees, Caroline Hoxby, Mikael Lindahl, Hessel Oosterbeek and other participants at the CESifo/PEPG conference in Munich for helpful comments.


Nineteenth-century Catholic doctrine strongly opposed state schooling. We show that countries with larger shares of Catholics in 1900 (but without a Catholic state religion) tend to have larger shares of privately operated schools even today. We use this historical pattern as a natural experiment to estimate the causal effect of contemporary private competition on student achievement in cross-country student-level analyses. Our results show that larger shares of privately operated schools lead to better student achievement in mathematics, science and reading, and to lower total education spending, even after controlling for current Catholic shares.