Racial Segregation and the Black-White Test Score Gap

David Card, Jesse Rothstein

NBER Working Paper No. 12078
Issued in March 2006
NBER Program(s):Children, Economics of Education

Racial segregation is often blamed for some of the achievement gap between blacks and whites. We study the effects of school and neighborhood segregation on the relative SAT scores of black students across different metropolitan areas, using large microdata samples for the 1998-2001 test cohorts. Our models include detailed controls for the family background of individual test-takers, school-level controls for selective participation in the test, and city-level controls for racial composition, income, and region. We find robust evidence that the black-white test score gap is higher in more segregated cities. Holding constant family background and other factors, a shift from a fully segregated to a completely integrated city closes about one-quarter of the raw black-white gap in SAT scores. Specifications that distinguish between school and neighborhood segregation suggest that neighborhood segregation has a consistently negative impact but that school segregation has no independent effect (though we cannot reject equality of the two effects). We find similar results using Census-based data on schooling outcomes for youth in different cities. Data on enrollment in honors courses suggest that within-school segregation increases when schools are more highly integrated, potentially offsetting the benefits of school desegregation and accounting for our findings.

download in pdf format
   (679 K)

email paper

A non-technical summary of this paper is available in the November 2006 NBER Digest.  You can sign up to receive the NBER Digest by email.

Machine-readable bibliographic record - MARC, RIS, BibTeX

Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w12078

Published: Card, David and Jesse Rothstein. “Racial Segregation and the Black-White Test Score Gap.” Journal of Public Economics 91, 11-12 (December 2007): 2158-2184. citation courtesy of

Users who downloaded this paper also downloaded* these:
Fryer w16257 The Importance of Segregation, Discrimination, Peer Dynamics, and Identity in Explaining Trends in the Racial Achievement Gap
Hanushek and Rivkin w14211 Harming the Best: How Schools Affect the Black-White Achievement Gap
Vigdor and Ludwig w12988 Segregation and the Black-White Test Score Gap
Baker and Milligan w13826 Evidence From Maternity Leave Expansions of the Impact of Maternal Care on Early Child Development
Hoxby w7867 Peer Effects in the Classroom: Learning from Gender and Race Variation
NBER Videos

National Bureau of Economic Research, 1050 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02138; 617-868-3900; email:

Contact Us