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Historical Perspectives on Racial Differences in Schooling in the United States

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  • Collins, William J.
  • Margo, Robert A.

Abstract

In this chapter we present an overview of the history of racial differences in schooling in the United States. We present basic data on literacy, school attendance, educational attainment, various measures of school quality, and the returns to schooling. Then, in the context of a simple model of schooling attainment, we interpret the fundamental trends in an "analytic narrative" that illuminates change over time. Although some of the data presented in the tables carry the story to the late twentieth century, the evidence and narrative we develop focus on the period before 1954, the year of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka. A theme of convergence is central to the narrative. Slaves were typically forbidden to learn how to read and write, and others were typically forbidden to teach them. Just after the Civil War, more than 80 percent of African Americans over the age of nine were illiterate (compared to 12 percent of whites). After Emancipation, black children continued to face many obstacles in acquiring education. In addition to their relative poverty and their parents' relatively low levels of literacy (on average), society and its educational institutions were overtly racist. The negative implications for black children's schooling were significant and lasted well into the twentieth century. Nonetheless, successive generations of black children did manage to narrow the racial gap in schooling and educational attainment. By 1930, only 12 percent of African Americans were illiterate - finally attaining the level that whites had registered 60 years earlier. The pace of change was not constant, however, and there were some periods of short-run divergence between blacks and whites in educational attainment. The long-term process of convergence, moreover, has yet to fully run its course, and the remaining racial gaps in schooling have proven quite stubborn to eliminate.

Suggested Citation

  • Collins, William J. & Margo, Robert A., 2006. "Historical Perspectives on Racial Differences in Schooling in the United States," Handbook of the Economics of Education, Elsevier.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:educhp:1-03
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Robert A. Margo, 2000. "Introduction to "Wages and Labor Markets in the United States, 1820-1860"," NBER Chapters,in: Wages and Labor Markets in the United States, 1820-1860, pages 1-5 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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    4. Margo, Robert A, 1987. "Accounting for Racial Differences in School Attendance in the American South, 1900: The Role of Separate-but-Equal," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 69(4), pages 661-666, November.
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    7. Fishback, Price V & Baskin, John S, 1991. "Narrowing the Black-White Gap in Child Literacy in 1910: The Roles of School Inputs and Family Inputs," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 73(4), pages 725-728, November.
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    Cited by:

    1. Bertocchi, Graziella & Dimico, Arcangelo, 2014. "Slavery, education, and inequality," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 70(C), pages 197-209.
    2. Bertocchi, Graziella & Dimico, Arcangelo, 2011. "The Evolution of the Racial Gap in Education and the Legacy of Slavery," IZA Discussion Papers 6192, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    3. Maloney, William F. & Valencia, Felipe Caicedo, 2014. "Engineers, Innovative Capacity and Development in the Americas," IZA Discussion Papers 8271, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    4. Costa, Dora L. & Kahn, Matthew E., 2006. "Forging a New Identity: The Costs and Benefits of Diversity in Civil War Combat Units for Black Slaves and Freemen," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 66(04), pages 936-962, December.
    5. Ilyana Kuziemko, 2011. "Human Capital Spillovers in Families: Do Parents Learn from or Lean on their Children?," NBER Working Papers 17235, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    6. Rucker C. Johnson, 2011. "Long-run Impacts of School Desegregation & School Quality on Adult Attainments," NBER Working Papers 16664, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    7. Lisa Cook, 2014. "Violence and economic activity: evidence from African American patents, 1870–1940," Journal of Economic Growth, Springer, vol. 19(2), pages 221-257, June.
    8. Bertocchi, Graziella & Dimico, Arcangelo, 2012. "The racial gap in education and the legacy of slavery," Journal of Comparative Economics, Elsevier, vol. 40(4), pages 581-595.
    9. Mason, Patrick, 2007. "Intergenerational mobility and interraical inequality:the return to family values," MPRA Paper 11327, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    10. Dionissi Aliprantis & Daniel R. Carroll, 2012. "Neighborhood dynamics and the distribution of opportunity," Working Paper 1212, Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, revised 01 Feb 2013.
    11. Suresh Naidu, 2012. "Suffrage, Schooling, and Sorting in the Post-Bellum U.S. South," NBER Working Papers 18129, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    12. Leah Boustan & Robert A. Margo, 2014. "Racial Differences in Health in Long-Run Perspective: A Brief Introduction," NBER Working Papers 20765, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    13. William F. Maloney & Felipe Valencia Caicedo, 2017. "Engineering Growth: Innovative Capacity and Development in the Americas," CESifo Working Paper Series 6339, CESifo Group Munich.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    slavery; literacy; education; Brown v. Board; discrimination;

    JEL classification:

    • I2 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education

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