Were Compulsory Attendance and Child Labor Laws Effective? An Analysis from 1915 to 1939
AbstractSecondary schooling experienced incredible growth in the first 40 years of the 20th Century. Was legislation on compulsory attendance and child labor responsible for this growth? This paper analyzes a detailed set of laws, examining their effect on the entire distribution of education. It also looks at the factors that explain changes in the laws. Using individual data from the 1960 census, I estimate the effect of these laws on educational achievement for individuals who were 14 years old between 1915 and 1939. The results show that legally requiring a child to attend school for one more year, either by increasing the age required to obtain a work permit or by lowering the entrance age, increased educational attainment by about 5%. Interestingly the effect was similar for white males and females, but there was no effect for blacks. Continuation school laws, which required working children to attend school on a part time basis, were effective for white males only. I also find that the laws increased the education only of those in the lower percentiles of the distribution of education. This result is consistent with what theory predicts if the laws were indeed enforced. By increasing the education of the lower tail, the laws contributed to the decrease in educational inequality, perhaps by as much as 15%. States with more wealth and a higher percentage of immigrants were more likely to pass more stringent laws, and states with higher percentage of blacks were less likely to do so. Importantly, the results also suggest that the laws were not endogenous during this period, in the sense that compulsory attendance and child labor laws caused education to increase, not vice-versa.
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Bibliographic InfoPaper provided by Princeton University, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Center for Health and Wellbeing. in its series Working Papers with number 273.
Date of creation: Apr 2001
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