Indiana University SPEA Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy University of Pennsylvania AIR American University

Panel Paper: Intergenerational Effects of School Desegregation

Saturday, November 14, 2015 : 8:30 AM
Japengo (Hyatt Regency Miami)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Menghan Shen, Columbia University
Overview of the Paper

In 1954, the United States Supreme Court ruled that separate schools for blacks and whites were “inherently unequal”. Previous literature has found that the implementation of the desegregation plans improved black students’ education, labor market, and health outcome. This paper studies whether the desegregation plans also benefit students’ birth outcome by exploiting information available through birth certificates from 1970 to 2002. It follows the empirical strategy adopted by Guryan (2004) by exploiting the exogenous variation in the timing of desegregation by school district. It compares birth outcomes for mothers who are older than 17 at the time of desegregation and therefore are not exposed to the K-12 desegregation, with mothers who are younger or equal to 17 at the time desegregation and therefore were exposed to school desegregation, within the same county and within the same year. It finds robust evidence that school desegregation has induced both black and white students to be more likely to produce biracial children. In addition, desegregation has improved infants’ health, as measured by birth weight and gestational age.

Understanding the full impact of desegregation is important for educational policy because school districts are becoming more segregated again (Lutz 2011, Reardon et al 2012). Overall, this paper confirms that the effect of school desegregation has far-reaching impacts beyond academic test scores.

Why Birth Outcome?

There is strong evidence that desegregation plans led to a decrease in the segregation of public school districts (Welch & Light, 1987; Rossell & Armor, 1996; Reber, 2002). However, Echenique & Fryer (2007) find that within integrated public schools, friendship networks can still be segregated. Therefore, to evaluate the reform plans on the actual social interactions between races within and beyond school, it is problematic to simply calculate the share of students by race (Echenique & Fryer, 2007).

The effect of school desegregation on biracial birth outcome is important because it measures social interactions between races: whether or not a majority group views a minority group on equal footing. This outcome is useful because the occurrence of interracial birth and intermarriage reflect fundamental behavior choices (Fryer, 2007; Matthijs, 1993). In addition, using information-based theories of discrimination, social intimacy such as inter-marriage itself leads to less discrimination and improved outcome for racial minority groups (Loury, 2002; Fryer and Jackson, 2003; Rosch, 1978).

Why Infant Health?

While previous research has found that that desegregation policies have improved black’s outcome beyond academic achievement, it is unclear whether the benefits are transitory or persistent across generations. This paper complements previous study by examining the effect of school integration on infant’s health outcome. In addition, improved infant health is also an important indicator for later adult health and other cognitive outcomes.