NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

High School Graduation in the Context of Changing Elementary and Secondary Education Policy and Income Inequality: The Last Half Century

Nora E. Gordon

NBER Working Paper No. 19049
Issued in May 2013
NBER Program(s):   ED

Goldin and Katz (2008) document the key role that the educational attainment of native-born workers in the U.S. has played in determining changing returns to skill and income distribution in the twentieth century, emphasizing the need to understand the forces driving the supply of educated workers. This paper examines stagnation in high school graduation rates from about 1970 to 2000, alongside dramatic changes in elementary and secondary educational institutions and income inequality over those years. I review the policy history of major changes in educational institutions, including but not limited to the massive increase in school spending, and related literature. I then present descriptive analysis of the relationships between income inequality and both graduation and school spending from 1963 to 2007. Results suggest that inequality at the top of the income distribution, which was negatively correlated with the establishment of public secondary schooling earlier in the twentieth century, was positively correlated not only with education spending levels but also with aggregate high school graduation rates at the state level in this later period.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w19049

This paper was subsequently revised as Explaining Trends in High School Graduation: The Changing Elementary and Secondary Education Policy Landscape and Income Inequality over the Last Half Century, Nora Gordon, in Human Capital in History: The American Record (2014), University of Chicago Press
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