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

  • Kenneth Y. Chay
  • Jonathan Guryan
  • Bhashkar Mazumder

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.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 15078.

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Date of creation: Jun 2009
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Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:15078
Note: CH ED HC HE LS PE
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  1. 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 138-77, March.
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  3. 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.
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  9. Eric A. Hanushek, 2001. "Black-White Achievement Differences and Governmental Interventions," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 91(2), pages 24-28, May.
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. John J. Donohue III & James Heckman, 1991. "Continuous Versus Episodic Change: The Impact of Civil Rights Policy on the Economic Status of Blacks," NBER Working Papers 3894, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  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 729-54, October.
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