The Intergenerational Transmission of Human Capital: Evidence from the Golden Age of Upward Mobility

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June 2018
Paper author(s): 
David Card
Ciprian Domnisoru
Lowell Taylor
Globalization - Trade

We use 1940 Census data to study the intergenerational transmission of human capital for children born in the 1920s and educated during an era of expanding but unequally distributed public school resources. Looking at the gains in educational attainment between parents and children, we document lower average mobility rates for blacks than whites, but wide variation across states and counties for both races. We show that schooling choices of white children were highly responsive to the quality of local schools, with bigger effects for the children of less-educated parents. We then narrow our focus to black families in the South, where state-wide minimum teacher salary laws created sharp differences in teacher wages between adjacent counties. These differences had large impacts on schooling attainment, suggesting an important causal role for school quality in mediating upward mobility.


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