• Melinda Mills

What is the effect of mass education on women's autonomy in Latin America?

Photo credit: Lisa Summer (

What is the effect of mass schooling on women's autonomy? In a new article in Demography, LCDS postdoctoral researcher Daniela Urbina addresses this question by focusing on the case of Latin American countries that implemented compulsory schooling laws in the 90. Using DHS data from Bolivia, Colombia & Peru, she finds that compulsory schooling led to reduced autonomy as the positive returns of schooling for women’s empowerment diminished as school systems expanded.

In the article, she provides evidence for two mechanisms underlying this surprising result. First, there was a trade-off between school expansion and student selectivity. She shows that compliers to compulsory schooling were more likely to come from rural and indigenous backgrounds.

Second, mass schooling increased the likelihood that women "marry down" in education, violating hypergamy expectations that are still ubiquitous in most Latin American countries.

Unions in which wives have more schooling than their husbands have shown to be problematic for women across several contexts. Thus, she argues that the greater restriction of women's autonomy, particularly in Bolivia and Peru, resulted from a compensatory response among couples who transgress educational hypergamy norms. Urbina shows that the negative effects of compulsory schooling were concentrated among married respondents in Bolivia and Peru. This subgroup of women was also more likely to experience controlling behaviors from their husbands.

Although her main find­ings are con­sis­tent across con­texts, she discusses important country-dif­fer­ences in the article.

To read the full article, click here.

Full citation:

Urbina, Daniela R. (2022). Mass Education and Women's Autonomy: Evidence From Latin America, Demography,

Daniela Urbina (left)