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Sea Change: The Competing Long-Run Impacts of the Transatlantic Slave Trade and Missionary Activity in Africa

Okoye, Dozie and Pongou, Roland (2015): Sea Change: The Competing Long-Run Impacts of the Transatlantic Slave Trade and Missionary Activity in Africa.

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Abstract

This paper contributes to the debate on the effect of European contact on African societies by comparing the long-run economic impacts of the transatlantic slave trade and historical missionary activity. Recognizing that early missionary activity in Africa was unintentionally aided by the preceding slave trade, it proposes an analytical framework in which the effect of the slave trade was partially mediated by missions. Using unique data from Nigeria, we analyze the causal effects of these shocks on schooling attainment, and consequent effects on literacy rates and self-employment. We �find a total negative effect of the transatlantic slave trade on schooling; its negative direct effect outweighs its positive indirect effect through missionary activity. Missionary activity, on the other hand, has a strong positive direct effect which outweighs the total negative effect of the slave trade. Furthermore, individuals whose ancestors were historically exposed to greater missionary activity are more likely to be literate and less likely to be self-employed, consistent with the positive effect of missionary activity on schooling. In contrast, exposure to the slave trade is associated with lower literacy rates and a greater likelihood of being self-employed. Analyzing the mechanisms, we provide evidence suggesting that the persistent effects of these historical shocks are due to intergenerational factors and higher schooling infrastructure in areas that were less exposed to the slave trade or more exposed to missionary activity. Consistent with a simple theory, these persistent effects are larger for women, younger cohorts, rural residents, and migrants. Religion does not appear to be especially important, and the �findings rule out an explanation based on simple changes in tastes for schooling.

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