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The Labor of Division: Returns to Compulsory High School Math Coursework

Joshua Goodman

NBER Working Paper No. 23063
Issued in January 2017
NBER Program(s):Children, Economics of Education, Labor Studies, Productivity, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship

Despite great focus on and public investment in STEM education, little causal evidence connects quantitative coursework to students’ economic outcomes. I show that state changes in minimum high school math requirements substantially increase black students’ completed math coursework and their later earnings. The marginal student’s return to an additional math course is 10 percent, roughly half the return to a year of high school, and is partly explained by a shift toward more cognitively skilled occupations. Whites’ coursework and earnings are unaffected. Rigorous standards for quantitative coursework can close meaningful portions of racial gaps in economic outcomes.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w23063

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