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


Between 1960 and 1980 the gap in earnings between black and white
males narrowed by 15 percent. A detailed analysis of 1960, 1970, and 1980
Census data indicates that increases in the relative return to education
were largely responsible for black workers’ relative earnings gains. One
explanation for these higher returns is that they reflect the market
valuation of higher-quality schooling available to later cohorts of black
students. To investigate the role of school quality in the convergence of
black and white earnings, 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 l8 segregated states from 1915 to 1966. The
school quality data are then linked to estimated rates of return to
education for men from different cohorts and states. Improvements in the
relative quality of black schools explain roughly 20 percent of the
narrowing of the black-white earnings gap in this period.

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The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Vol. 106, No. 1, November, 1991
Working Papers