Do Longer School Days Have Enduring Educational, Occupational, or Income Effects? A Natural Experiment in Buenos Aires, Argentina
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Do Longer School Days Have Enduring Educational, Occupational, or Income Effects? A Natural Experiment in Buenos Aires, Argentina

In 1971 longer school days were decreed for around half of the primary schools in the city of Buenos Aires, Argentina. The policy covered all the city neighborhoods, and the schools were chosen probably at random. An unusual opportunity for a natural experiment was thus created. In 2006 and 2007 we interviewed a sample of 380 alumni of the 1971 cohort, thirty years after their 1977 graduation from schools with and without longer days. We tried to identify how the length of their school days affected their education, occupation, and income.

The next section provides a fuller description of the aforementioned policy. The subsequent section, devoted to a review of the literature, is longer than usual. We thought it was important to review and to compare both the older literature on the relationship between the length of school schedules and academic results and the newer literature devoted to renewing the educational production function approach using random or natural experiments. Cross-references between different literatures are rare, but from our point of view, they can promote a better understanding of the issues dealt with here. [End Page 1]

The third section presents the methodology and the characteristics of the database, and the fourth section shows the main results of the experiment. We then conclude with a discussion of the results and some of their policy implications.

The Policy and Its Context

In this section we describe the policy that gave origin to the natural experiment and the context in which it took place.

Educational System in Argentina and Buenos Aires in the 1970s

Since the end of the nineteenth century, the Argentine educational system has been governed by the principles of free and universal access, included laity in the public schools, and, up to the late 1970s, provided for seven years of compulsory primary education.1 Although primary education was constitutionally in the hands of the provinces, the federal government continued running some primary schools in most provinces until the late 1970s and early 1980s. The private sector—both religious and secular—was also authorized to run primary and secondary schools. The case of the city of Buenos Aires was peculiar. As the capital of Argentina, until 1996 its administration was in the hands of the federal government, and the same happened with its schools. Enrollment rates in Argentina have been traditionally high when compared to other Latin American countries. In 1970 school expectancy from primary to tertiary education was 10.3 years at the federal level, and even higher and close to the average of developed countries (11.5 years) in the city of Buenos Aires (Llach 2005).

Policy of Lengthening School Days in the City of Buenos Aires: Creation of a Natural Experiment

The policy introduced a double shift (DS), or full-time attendance, into the primary schools of the city of Buenos Aires.2 This approach began as a pilot [End Page 2] experiment in 1957 proposed by the professor Carlos Florit, general inspector of schools of the National Council of Education (Consejo Nacional de Educación).3 During the 1960s, the number of DS schools increased very gradually, but in 1971 it was drastically expanded to encompass almost 50 percent of the primary schools of the city of Buenos Aires.4 The policy was originally conceived to achieve both educational and social purposes (Consejo Nacional de Educación 1968, 1971) and was evenly applied in all the school districts in such a way that, in the early 1970s, the proportion of DS primary schools in every school district was around 50 percent of the total.

Admission Criteria and the Selection Bias Issue.

Even in areas where the middle class predominates in the city, there were, and still are, important socioeconomic differences among the neighborhoods and school districts. From a social perspective, the idea of the new policy was to provide a solution to the uneven consequences of the increasing participation of women in the labor force. While richer households could pay for nurses or other domestic help to...