School Quality and Black-White Relative Earnings: A Direct Assessment
The average wage differential between black and white men fell from 40 percent in 1960 to 25 percent in 1980. Much of this convergence is attributable to a relative increase in the rate of return to schooling among black workers. It is widely argued that the growth in the relative return to black education reflects the dramatic improvements in the quality of black schooling over the past century. To test this hypothesis we have assembled data on three aspects of school quality -- pupil teacher ratios. annual teacher pay. and term length for black and white schools in 18 segregated states from 1915 to 1966. The school quality data are linked to estimated rates of return to education for Southern-born men from different cohorts and states. measured in 1960. 1970. and 1980. Improvements in the relative quality of black schools explain 20 percent of the narrowing of the black-white earnings gap between 1960 and 1980.