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Birth Cohort and the Black-White Achievement Gap: The Roles of Access and Health Soon After Birth

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  • Kenneth Y. Chay
  • Jonathan Guryan
  • Bhashkar Mazumder

Abstract

One literature documents a significant, black-white gap in average test scores, while another finds a substantial narrowing of the gap during the 1980's, and stagnation in convergence after. We use two data sources -- the Long Term Trends NAEP and AFQT scores for the universe of applicants to the U.S. military between 1976 and 1991 -- to show: 1) the 1980's convergence is due to relative improvements across successive cohorts of blacks born between 1963 and the early 1970's and not a secular narrowing in the gap over time; and 2) the across-cohort gains were concentrated among blacks in the South. We then demonstrate that the timing and variation across states in the AFQT convergence closely tracks racial convergence in measures of health and hospital access in the years immediately following birth. We show that the AFQT convergence is highly correlated with post-neonatal mortality rates and not with neonatal mortality and low birth weight rates, and that this result cannot be explained by schooling desegregation and changes in family background. We conclude that investments in health through increased access at very early ages have large, long-term effects on achievement, and that the integration of hospitals during the 1960's affected the test performance of black teenagers in the 1980's.

Suggested Citation

  • Kenneth Y. Chay & Jonathan Guryan & Bhashkar Mazumder, 2009. "Birth Cohort and the Black-White Achievement Gap: The Roles of Access and Health Soon After Birth," NBER Working Papers 15078, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:15078
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Robert A. Margo, 1990. "Race and Schooling in the South, 1880-1950: An Economic History," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number marg90-1, July.
    2. Robert A. Margo, 1990. "Race and Schooling in the South: A Review of the Evidence," NBER Chapters,in: Race and Schooling in the South, 1880-1950: An Economic History, pages 6-32 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. Heckman, James J & Payner, Brook S, 1989. "Determining the Impact of Federal Antidiscrimination Policy on the Economic Status of Blacks: A Study of South Carolina," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 79(1), pages 138-177, March.
    4. David Card & Alan B. Krueger, 1992. "School Quality and Black-White Relative Earnings: A Direct Assessment," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 107(1), pages 151-200.
    5. Donohue, John J, III & Heckman, James, 1991. "Continuous versus Episodic Change: The Impact of Civil Rights Policy on the Economic Status of Blacks," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 29(4), pages 1603-1643, December.
    6. Keisuke Hirano & Guido W. Imbens & Geert Ridder, 2003. "Efficient Estimation of Average Treatment Effects Using the Estimated Propensity Score," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 71(4), pages 1161-1189, July.
    7. Janet Currie, 2009. "Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise: Socioeconomic Status, Poor Health in Childhood, and Human Capital Development," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 47(1), pages 87-122, March.
    8. 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, Oxford University Press, vol. 122(1), pages 159-208.
    9. Joshua D. Angrist, 1998. "Estimating the Labor Market Impact of Voluntary Military Service Using Social Security Data on Military Applicants," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 66(2), pages 249-288, March.
    10. Roland G. Fryer & Steven D. Levitt, 2004. "Understanding the Black-White Test Score Gap in the First Two Years of School," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 86(2), pages 447-464, May.
    11. Neal, Derek A & Johnson, William R, 1996. "The Role of Premarket Factors in Black-White Wage Differences," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 104(5), pages 869-895, October.
    12. Jeffrey M. Wooldridge, 2002. "Inverse probability weighted M-estimators for sample selection, attrition and stratification," CeMMAP working papers CWP11/02, Centre for Microdata Methods and Practice, Institute for Fiscal Studies.
    13. Cook, Michael D & Evans, William N, 2000. "Families or Schools? Explaining the Convergence in White and Black Academic Performance," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 18(4), pages 729-754, October.
    14. Eric A. Hanushek, 2001. "Black-White Achievement Differences and Governmental Interventions," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 91(2), pages 24-28, May.
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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • I12 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health - - - Health Behavior
    • I18 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health - - - Government Policy; Regulation; Public Health
    • J15 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Economics of Minorities, Races, Indigenous Peoples, and Immigrants; Non-labor Discrimination
    • J24 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Human Capital; Skills; Occupational Choice; Labor Productivity

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