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Compulsory Schooling Legislation: An Economic Analysis of Law and Social Change in the Nineteenth Century


  • Landes, William M.
  • Solmon, Lewis C.


The role of law in relation to social change is not well understood. One reason for our ignorance is the lack of evidence on the causal role of legislation. Too often the efforts at social reform and the intended consequences of legislation are accepted as proof that behavior has been significantly altered. A case in point is legislation that compels children to attend school. Although it is commonly believed that such laws have been effective in increasing the participation of children in schooling systems in the United States over the last 100 years, there is little evidence to support or reject this belief. Some persons have questioned whether these laws have been the cause or the result of observed increases in school attainment. Still others have doubted the degree to which compulsory schooling laws have been enforced. Reports of widespread truancy in urban schools today call into question not only present enforcement difficulties but also whether these laws were effectively enforced from their inception in the nineteenth century. Yet, in spite of the contemporary and historical interest in compulsory school attendance laws, the basic question remains unanswered: what has been the effect, if any, of these laws on school enrollment and attendance?

Suggested Citation

  • Landes, William M. & Solmon, Lewis C., 1972. "Compulsory Schooling Legislation: An Economic Analysis of Law and Social Change in the Nineteenth Century," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 32(1), pages 54-91, March.
  • Handle: RePEc:cup:jechis:v:32:y:1972:i:01:p:54-91_07

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