Were Compulsory Attendance and Child Labor Laws Effective? An Analysis from 1915 to 1939
Were compulsory attendance and child labor laws responsible for the incredible growth in secondary schooling from 1915 to 1939? Using 1960 census data, I find that legally requiring children to attend school for 1 more year, by increasing the age required for a work permit or lowering the entrance age, increased educational attainment by about 5 percent. The effect was similar for white males and females, but there was no effect for blacks. Continuation school laws that required working children to attend school on a part-time basis were effective for white males only. These laws increased the education only of those in the lower percentiles of the education distribution, thereby decreasing education inequality, perhaps by as much as 15 percent. States with higher levels of wealth, higher percentage of immigrants, or lower percentage of blacks were more likely to pass stringent laws. The results also suggest that these laws were not endogenous. Copyright 2002 by the University of Chicago.
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