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Mind the Mind Gap

While developing countries have been catching up to their richer counterparts on some key metrics, they appear to be falling behind on others. Most worrisome is a growing gap in the local capabilities needed to make the most of new technological innovations.

CAMBRIDGE – Over the past 60 years, some development gaps across countries have narrowed impressively. But others have persisted. And one has widened, with ominous implications for the future.

On the positive side, life expectancy in low-income countries has risen from 55% of US levels in 1960 (when it was 70 years) to over 80% now (when it is 78.5 years), while in many middle-income countries – including Chile, Costa Rica, and Lebanon – people live longer than Americans do.

A similar story can be told about education. Even as tertiary school enrollment in the United States increased from 47% in 1970 to 88% in 2018, many countries have dramatically narrowed the gap. Latin America, for example, went from less than 15% of the US level in 1970 to 60% of today’s much higher US enrollment rate, with some countries (such as Argentina and Chile) reporting enrollment rates higher than the US. In the same period, Arab countries went from less than 13% of US levels to more than 36% today.