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School Quality and Black-White Relative Earnings: A Direct Assessment


  • David Card
  • Alan B. Krueger


The average wage differential between black and white men fell from 40 percent in 1960 to 25 percent in 1980. Much of this convergence is attributable to a relative increase in the rate of return to schooling among black workers. It is widely argued that the growth in the relative return to black education reflects the dramatic improvements in the quality of black schooling over the past century. To test this hypothesis we have assembled data on three aspects of school quality -- pupil teacher ratios. annual teacher pay. and term length for black and white schools in 18 segregated states from 1915 to 1966. The school quality data are linked to estimated rates of return to education for Southern-born men from different cohorts and states. measured in 1960. 1970. and 1980. Improvements in the relative quality of black schools explain 20 percent of the narrowing of the black-white earnings gap between 1960 and 1980.

Suggested Citation

  • David Card & Alan B. Krueger, 1991. "School Quality and Black-White Relative Earnings: A Direct Assessment," NBER Working Papers 3713, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:3713
    Note: LS

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. David Card & Alan Krueger, 1990. "Does School Quality Matter? Returns to Education and the Characteristics of Public Schools in the United States," Working Papers 645, Princeton University, Department of Economics, Industrial Relations Section..
    2. Card, David & Krueger, Alan B, 1992. "Does School Quality Matter? Returns to Education and the Characteristics of Public Schools in the United States," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 100(1), pages 1-40, February.
    3. Charles Brown, 1981. "The Federal Attack on Labor Market Discrimination: The Mouse that Roared?," NBER Working Papers 0669, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    4. Smith, James P, 1984. "Race and Human Capital," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 74(4), pages 685-698, September.
    5. Richard B. Freeman, 1973. "Changes in the Labor Market for Black Americans, 1948-72," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 4(1), pages 67-132.
    6. Greg J. Duncan & Saul D. Hoffman, 1983. "A New Look at the Causes of the Improved Economic Status of Black Workers," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 18(2), pages 268-282.
    7. repec:fth:prinin:265 is not listed on IDEAS
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    JEL classification:

    • H3 - Public Economics - - Fiscal Policies and Behavior of Economic Agents
    • H30 - Public Economics - - Fiscal Policies and Behavior of Economic Agents - - - General


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