Immigration and the path dependence of education: the case of German-speakers in São Paulo, Brazil (1840–1920)

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This article studies the path dependence of human capital accumulation in the state of São Paulo, Brazil. It focuses on the impacts of German-speaking immigrants on education through three channels: their share of the population in the nineteenth century, their on-the-job skills, and the schools they founded. Using a new dataset based on almanacs from 1873 and 1888, these effects are evaluated for the nineteenth, early twentieth, and early twenty-first centuries. The article shows that the institutionalized demand for education of these immigrants, reflected by the establishment of schools, was their main contribution to the accumulation of human capital. The effect of German schools on educational levels required a period to mature and dissipated over time. Nevertheless, its influence was substantial at the beginning of the twentieth century, affecting enrolment levels in private and state schools, a result that suggests the existence of spillover and contagion effects. Moreover, current indicators for stocks and flows of human capital in São Paulo are strongly associated with their historical levels. At the same time, this path dependence is conditional on the type of school: while a positive persistence is found for the private system throughout the twentieth century, convergence occurred in state schools.

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