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Putting the Co in Education: Timing, Reasons, and Consequences of College Coeducation from 1835 to the Present


  • Claudia Goldin
  • Lawrence F. Katz


The history of coeducation in U.S. higher education is explored through an analysis of a database containing information on all institutions offering four-year undergraduate degrees that operated in 1897, 1924, 1934, or 1980, most of which still exist today. These data reveal surprises about the timing of coeducation and the reasons for its increase. Rather than being episodic and caused by financial pressures brought about by wars and recessions, the process of switching from single-sex to coeducational colleges was relatively continuous from 1835 to the 1950s before it accelerated (especially for Catholic institutions) in the 1960s and 1970s. We explore the empirical implications of a model of switching from single-sex to coeducation in which schools that become coeducational face losing donations from existing alumni but, because they raise the quality of new students, increase other future revenues. We find that older and private single-sex institutions were slower to become coeducational and that institutions persisting as single sex into the 1970s had lower enrollment growth in the late 1960s and early 1970s than those that switched earlier. We also find that access to coeducational institutions in the first half of the twentieth century was associated with increased women's educational attainment. Coeducation mattered to women's education throughout U.S. history and it mattered to a greater extent in the more distant past than in the more recent and celebrated period of change.

Suggested Citation

  • Claudia Goldin & Lawrence F. Katz, 2010. "Putting the Co in Education: Timing, Reasons, and Consequences of College Coeducation from 1835 to the Present," NBER Working Papers 16281, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:16281
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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Goldin, Claudia, 1998. "America's Graduation from High School: The Evolution and Spread of Secondary Schooling in the Twentieth Century," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 58(02), pages 345-374, June.
    2. Janet Currie & Enrico Moretti, 2003. "Mother's Education and the Intergenerational Transmission of Human Capital: Evidence from College Openings," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 118(4), pages 1495-1532.
    3. Claudia Goldin & Lawrence F. Katz, 1999. "The Shaping of Higher Education: The Formative Years in the United States, 1890 to 1940," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 13(1), pages 37-62, Winter.
    4. repec:hrv:faseco:30747152 is not listed on IDEAS
    5. Philip Oreopoulos & Kjell G. Salvanes, 2009. "How large are returns to schooling? Hint: Money isn't everything," NBER Working Papers 15339, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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    Cited by:

    1. Eisenkopf, Gerald & Hessami, Zohal & Fischbacher, Urs & Ursprung, Heinrich W., 2015. "Academic performance and single-sex schooling: Evidence from a natural experiment in Switzerland," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 115(C), pages 123-143.
    2. Schindler, Dirk & Schjelderup, Guttorm, 2012. "Debt shifting and ownership structure," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 56(4), pages 635-647.
    3. Martha J. Bailey & Brad Hershbein & Amalia R. Miller, 2012. "The Opt-In Revolution? Contraception and the Gender Gap in Wages," American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, American Economic Association, vol. 4(3), pages 225-254, July.
    4. Jisoo Hwang, 2016. "Housewife, “gold miss,” and equal: the evolution of educated women’s role in Asia and the U.S," Journal of Population Economics, Springer;European Society for Population Economics, vol. 29(2), pages 529-570, April.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • I2 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education
    • I23 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - Higher Education; Research Institutions
    • N3 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy
    • N31 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy - - - U.S.; Canada: Pre-1913
    • N32 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy - - - U.S.; Canada: 1913-


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