Long-run Impacts of School Desegregation & School Quality on Adult Attainments

Rucker C. Johnson

NBER Working Paper No. 16664
Issued in January 2011
NBER Program(s):   CH   LS

This paper investigates the long-run impacts of court-ordered school desegregation on an array of adult socioeconomic and health outcomes. The study analyzes the life trajectories of children born between 1945 and 1968, and followed through 2013, using the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID). The PSID data are linked with multiple data sources that describe the neighborhood attributes, school quality resources, and coincident policies that prevailed at the time these children were growing up. I exploit quasi-random variation in the timing of initial court orders, which generated differences in the timing and scope of the implementation of desegregation plans during the 1960s, 70s, and 80s. Event study analyses as well as 2SLS and sibling-difference estimates indicate that school desegregation and the accompanied increases in school quality resulted in significant improvements in adult attainments for blacks. I find that, for blacks, school desegregation significantly increased both educational and occupational attainments, college quality and adult earnings, reduced the probability of incarceration, and improved adult health status; desegregation had no effects on whites across each of these outcomes. The results suggest that the mechanisms through which school desegregation led to beneficial adult attainment outcomes for blacks include improvement in access to school resources reflected in reductions in class size and increases in per-pupil spending.

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This paper was revised on September 14, 2015

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w16664

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