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Education and Income in the Early 20th Century: Evidence from the Prairies

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  • Claudia Goldin
  • Lawrence F. Katz

Abstract

We present the first estimates of the returns to years of schooling before 1940 using a large sample of men and women, employed in a variety of sectors and occupations, from the Iowa State Census of 1915. We find that the returns to a year of high school, and to a year of college, were substantial in 1915 - about 11 percent for all males and in excess of 12 percent for young males. Some of the return to years of high school and college arose because more education allowed individuals to enter lucrative white-collar jobs. But we also find sizable educational wage differentials within the white- and blue-collar sectors. Returns to education above the 'common school' grades were substantial even within the agricultural sector. Given the high overall rate of return to secondary schooling, it is no wonder that the 'high school movement' took root in America around 1910, even in agricultural areas such as Iowa. Census data for 1940, 1950, and 1960 are used to show that returns to years of schooling were greater in 1915 than in 1940. We conclude that the return to education decreased sometime between 1915 and 1940 and then declined again during the 1940s.

Suggested Citation

  • Claudia Goldin & Lawrence F. Katz, 1999. "Education and Income in the Early 20th Century: Evidence from the Prairies," NBER Working Papers 7217, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:7217 Note: LS DAE
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    Cited by:

    1. Daniel Aaronson & Daniel G. Sullivan, 2002. "Growth in worker quality," Chicago Fed Letter, Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, issue Feb.
    2. repec:kap:poprpr:v:36:y:2017:i:5:d:10.1007_s11113-017-9431-7 is not listed on IDEAS
    3. repec:esx:essedp:763 is not listed on IDEAS
    4. Karen Clay & Jeff Lingwall & Melvin Stephens, Jr., 2016. "Laws, Educational Outcomes, and Returns to Schooling: Evidence from the Full Count 1940 Census," NBER Working Papers 22855, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    5. Motkuri, Venkatanarayana, 2004. "Child Labour and Schooling in a Histrical Perspective: The Developed Countries Experience," MPRA Paper 48416, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    6. Chad Turner & Robert Tamura & Sean Mulholland & Scott Baier, 2007. "Education and income of the states of the United States: 1840–2000," Journal of Economic Growth, Springer, vol. 12(2), pages 101-158, June.
    7. Alex Mourmouras & Peter Rangazas, 2009. "Reconciling Kuznets and Habbakuk in a unified growth theory," Journal of Economic Growth, Springer, vol. 14(2), pages 149-181, June.
    8. Timothy W. Guinnane, 2011. "The Historical Fertility Transition: A Guide for Economists," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 49(3), pages 589-614, September.
    9. Sophie van H¸llen & Duo Qin, 2016. "Compulsory Schooling and the Returns to Education: A Re-examination," Working Papers 199, Department of Economics, SOAS, University of London, UK.
    10. 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.
    11. Daron Acemoglu, 2002. "Technical Change, Inequality, and the Labor Market," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 40(1), pages 7-72, March.
    12. Yuchtman, Noam, 2017. "Teaching to the tests: An economic analysis of traditional and modern education in late imperial and republican China," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 63(C), pages 70-90.
    13. Robert E. Lucas, 2009. "Ideas and Growth," Economica, London School of Economics and Political Science, vol. 76(301), pages 1-19, February.
    14. Marco Manacorda, 2006. "Child Labor and the Labor Supply of Other Household Members: Evidence from 1920 America," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 96(5), pages 1788-1801, December.
    15. Peter Rangazas & Alexandros Mourmouras, 2013. "Wage and Fertility Gaps in Dual Economies," Eurasian Economic Review, Springer;Eurasia Business and Economics Society, vol. 3(1), pages 59-83, June.
    16. Joseph Ferrie & Catherine Massey & Jonathan Rothbaum, 2016. "Do Grandparents and Great-Grandparents Matter? Multigenerational Mobility in the US, 1910-2013," NBER Working Papers 22635, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    17. Bishop, John H. & Mane, Ferran, 2004. "The impacts of career-technical education on high school labor market success," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 23(4), pages 381-402, August.
    18. Méon, Pierre-Guillaume & Tojerow, Ilan, 2016. "In God We Learn? Religions' Universal Messages, Context-Specific Effects, and Minority Status," IZA Discussion Papers 10077, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    19. Campaniello, Nadia & Gray, Rowena & Mastrobuoni, Giovanni, 2016. "Returns to education in criminal organizations: Did going to college help Michael Corleone?," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 54(C), pages 242-258.
    20. Jane Hannaway, 2015. "Shifting Boundaries and Shady Borders: A Call for Research on the Political Economy of Education Reform," Education Finance and Policy, MIT Press, vol. 10(3), pages 301-313, July.
    21. Claudia Goldin & Lawrence F. Katz, 2003. "The "Virtues" of the Past: Education in the First Hundred Years of the New Republic," NBER Working Papers 9958, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    22. Parman, John, 2012. "Good schools make good neighbors: Human capital spillovers in early 20th century agriculture," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 49(3), pages 316-334.
    23. Peter Thompson, 2003. "Technological Change and the Age-Earnings Profile: Evidence from the International Merchant Marine, 1861-1912," Review of Economic Dynamics, Elsevier for the Society for Economic Dynamics, vol. 6(3), pages 578-601, July.
    24. Claudia Goldin, 2002. "The Rising (and then Declining) Significance of Gender," NBER Working Papers 8915, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • J2 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor
    • N3 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy

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