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Education and Income in the Early 20th Century: Evidence from the Prairies

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  • Claudia Goldin
  • Lawrence F. Katz

Abstract

We present the first estimates of the returns to years of schooling before 1940 using a large sample of men and women, employed in a variety of sectors and occupations, from the Iowa State Census of 1915. We find that the returns to a year of high school, and to a year of college, were substantial in 1915 - about 11 percent for all males and in excess of 12 percent for young males. Some of the return to years of high school and college arose because more education allowed individuals to enter lucrative white-collar jobs. But we also find sizable educational wage differentials within the white- and blue-collar sectors. Returns to education above the 'common school' grades were substantial even within the agricultural sector. Given the high overall rate of return to secondary schooling, it is no wonder that the 'high school movement' took root in America around 1910, even in agricultural areas such as Iowa. Census data for 1940, 1950, and 1960 are used to show that returns to years of schooling were greater in 1915 than in 1940. We conclude that the return to education decreased sometime between 1915 and 1940 and then declined again during the 1940s.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 7217.

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Date of creation: Jul 1999
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Publication status: published as Goldin, Claudia and Lawrence Katz. "Education And Income In The Early Twentieth Century: Evidence From The Prairies," Journal of Economic History, 2000, v60(3,Sep), 782-818.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:7217

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  1. Paul Taubman & Terence Wales, 1972. "Mental Ability and Higher Educational Attainment in the 20th Century," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number taub72-1.
  2. Welch, F, 1970. "Education in Production," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 78(1), pages 35-59, Jan.-Feb..
  3. Card, David, 1999. "The causal effect of education on earnings," Handbook of Labor Economics, in: O. Ashenfelter & D. Card (ed.), Handbook of Labor Economics, edition 1, volume 3, chapter 30, pages 1801-1863 Elsevier.
  4. Claudia Goldin & Lawrence F. Katz, 1999. "The Returns to Skill in the United States across the Twentieth Century," NBER Working Papers 7126, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. Goldin, Claudia, 1998. "America's Graduation from High School: The Evolution and Spread of Secondary Schooling in the Twentieth Century," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 58(02), pages 345-374, June.
  6. Lee Lillard & James P. Smith & Finis Welch, 2004. "What Do We Really Know About Wages: The Importance of Nonreporting and Census Imputation," Labor and Demography 0404005, EconWPA.
  7. Chinhui Juhn, 1999. "Wage inequality and demand for skill: Evidence from five decades," Industrial and Labor Relations Review, ILR Review, Cornell University, ILR School, vol. 52(3), pages 424-443, April.
  8. Bishop, John Hillman, 1989. "Is the Test Score Decline Responsible for the Productivity Growth Decline?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 79(1), pages 178-97, March.
  9. Claudia Goldin & Lawrence F. Katz, 1995. "The Decline of Non-Competing Groups: Changes in the Premium to Education, 1890 to 1940," NBER Working Papers 5202, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  10. Claudia Goldin & Lawrence F. Katz, 1996. "The Origins of Technology-Skill Complementarity," NBER Working Papers 5657, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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Cited by:
  1. Jens Ludwig & Douglas L Miller, 2007. "Does Head Start Improve Children's Life Chances? Evidence from a Regression Discontinuity Design," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 122(1), pages 159-208, 02.
  2. Peter Thompson, 2003. "Technological Change and the Age-Earnings Profile: Evidence from the International Merchant Marine, 1861-1912," Review of Economic Dynamics, Elsevier for the Society for Economic Dynamics, vol. 6(3), pages 578-601, July.
  3. Claudia Goldin & Lawrence F. Katz, 2003. "The "Virtues" of the Past: Education in the First Hundred Years of the New Republic," NBER Working Papers 9958, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Robert E. Lucas, 2009. "Ideas and Growth," Economica, London School of Economics and Political Science, vol. 76(301), pages 1-19, 02.
  5. Marco Manacorda, 2003. "Child Labor and the Labor Supply of Other Household Members: Evidence from 1920 America," CEP Discussion Papers dp0590, Centre for Economic Performance, LSE.
  6. Daniel Aaronson & Daniel Sullivan, 2001. "Growth in worker quality," Economic Perspectives, Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, issue Q IV, pages 53-74.
  7. Alex Mourmouras & Peter Rangazad, 2007. "Reconciling Kuznets and Habbakuk in a Unified Growth Theory," Working Papers wp200704, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, Department of Economics.
  8. Daron Acemoglu, 2000. "Technical Change, Inequality, and the Labor Market," NBER Working Papers 7800, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  9. Parman, John, 2012. "Good schools make good neighbors: Human capital spillovers in early 20th century agriculture," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 49(3), pages 316-334.
  10. Bishop, John H. & Mane, Ferran, 2004. "The impacts of career-technical education on high school labor market success," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 23(4), pages 381-402, August.
  11. Motkuri, Venkatanarayana, 2004. "Child Labour and Schooling in a Histrical Perspective: The Developed Countries Experience," MPRA Paper 48416, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  12. Chad Turner & Robert Tamura & Sean Mulholland & Scott Baier, 2007. "Education and income of the states of the United States: 1840–2000," Journal of Economic Growth, Springer, vol. 12(2), pages 101-158, June.
  13. Claudia Goldin, 2002. "The Rising (and then Declining) Significance of Gender," NBER Working Papers 8915, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.

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