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Uganda: Education and patience

More schooling leads to higher patience

Individual patience is important for economic development, as those who are willing to delay gratification by forgoing current consumption can invest more for the future. Michal Bauer and Julie Chytilová measured patience among villagers in Uganda and link these results with information on access to schools and serious disruptions of the Ugandan education system during the era of the dictator Idi Amin. The results show a positive effect of schooling on patience and suggest that education may promote development through a new channel: by shaping individual patience.

Michal Bauer / Charles University and CERGE-EI
Julie Chytilová / Charles University

where: Uganda
sample size: 856 villagers
when: November 2005

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Česká katolická charitaLondon School of Economics and Political ScienceMinistry of Education, Youth, and Sports

Learning to wait for brighter future?

Patience is critical for many important decisions, such as saving, investing, or sending children to school. Existing studies indicate that learning to be future oriented is an essential part of our upbringing. Evidence from all over the world demonstrates that more educated people are usually more patient. However, these findings do not necessarily imply that education causes individuals to be more patient, since it is possible that more patient people simply decide to study longer, or that another factor (such as intelligence) influences both patience and schooling. This study aims to uncover the causal impact of education on individual patience.

Take now or wait a year for more

A total of 856 respondents made a series of choices between receiving a smaller reward immediately and a larger amount in one year. The smaller the amount that an individual was willing to wait for, the more patient he or she is considered to be. Decisions of people who by chance received more schooling were compared to the decisions of people who by chance received less schooling. Two factors affecting schooling in such a random way were considered. First, children from areas with a lower density of schools were less likely to go to school. Second, the educational system was seriously destabilized during the era of the dictator Idi Amin (1971-1979) and people of school age during this period received less schooling on average. Researchers linked the results of the patience decisions with information on historical access to schools in different village areas and with the number of years of the primary-school age that overlap with the period of Idi Amin.

Education makes people more patient

The results confirm that more educated respondents are more patient. More importantly, using geographical and time variation in availability of schools, a causal effect of education on patience is found. Men who lived in villages with better access to secondary schools have both higher education and are more patient. Similarly, men who grew up during the era of Idi Amin have both lower education and are less patient. The evidence is weaker for women. The capacity of education to increase patience further emphasizes its prominent position in debates about economic development. The World Bank (2006) acknowledges that impact of education on economic growth is well established, however, the nature of this relationship is less well understood. Previous evidence has documented that education increases wages, and may reduce fertility and promote health prevention. The evidence from Ugandan villages suggests that there might be a new channel through which education promotes development — by shaping individual patience.


During the dictatorship of Idi Amin in 1971– 1979, Uganda suffered enormous economic decline. Military spending outweighted education expenditures. Himself illiterate, Amin was known for being highly suspicious of educated people. In 1972, he declared an “economic war” and expelled the Asian community. An exodus of European teachers followed. The quality of education declined sharply. Appleton, Hoddinott, and MacKinnon (1996) use UNESCO estimates and report decreases in primary school enrollment in 1965–1975.


  • - Greater education increases patience in inter-temporal choices.

  • - Men who by chance had better access to education are both more educated and more patient.

  • - The results suggest that education promotes economic development not only by improving productivity of people, or their health, but also by increasing patience, which results in more future-oriented investment.


Bauer, M., & Chytilová, J. (2010): The Impact of Education on Subjective Discount Rate in Ugandan Villages. Economic Development and Cultural Change.

Related literature:

-  Appleton, S., Hoddinott, J. & MacKinnon, J. (1996): Education and Health in Sub-Saharan Africa. Journal of International Development.

-  Bauer, M. & Chytilová, J. (2013): Women, Children and Patience: Experimental Evidence from Indian Villages. Review of Development Economics.

- Harrison, G.W., Lau, M.I., & Williams, M.B. (2002): Estimating Individual Discount Rates in Denmark: A Field Experiment. American Economic Review.

- World Bank (2006): Economics and education. http://www.worldbank.org/education/economicsed


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