Slavery and the Intergenerational Transmission of Human Capital

Bruce Sacerdote

NBER Working Paper No. 9227
Issued in September 2002
NBER Program(s):Development of the American Economy, Labor Studies

How much do sins visited upon one generation harm that generation's future sons, daughters, grandsons and granddaughters? I study this question by comparing outcomes for former slaves and their children and grandchildren to outcomes for free blacks (pre-1865), and their children and grandchildren. The outcome measures include literacy, whether a child attends school, whether a child lives in a female headed household, and two measures of adult occupation. Using a variety of different comparisons, (e.g. within versus across regions) I find that it took roughly two generations for the descendants of slaves to catch up' to the descendants of free black men and women. This finding is consistent with modern estimates and interpretations of father-son correlations in income and socioeconomic status. The data used are from the 1880 and 1920 1 percent (IPUMS) samples, a 100 percent sample of the 1880 Census and a smaller data set in which I link families in the 1920 IPUMS back to the father's family in a 100% sample of the 1880 Census. These latter data sets are derived from an electronic version of the 1880 Census recently compiled and released by the Mormon Church with assistance from the Minnesota Population Center.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w9227

Published: Sacerdote, Bruce. "Slavery and the Intergenerational Transmission of Human Capital." The Review of Economics and Statistics 87, 2 (May 2005). citation courtesy of

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