School Quality and the Intergenerational Transmission of Human Capital: Evidence from the Golden Era of Upward Mobility

Awarded Scholars:
David Card, University of California, Berkeley
Lowell Taylor, Carnegie Mellon University
Project Date:
Dec 2017
Award Amount:

Public education has long been viewed as the primary mechanism by which children from any socioeconomic background have an opportunity to pursue increased educational attainment. Public elementary education was widely available by 1900. The expanding availability of a high school education in the 20th century increased the percentage of children aged 14-17 years in school from 10 to 70 percent between 1900 and 1940. However, access to quality public education has been unequally distributed. Black students in most southern states, for example, had access to only low-quality segregated schools with limited opportunities to complete high school. And white children from poorer and rural areas had fewer educational opportunities than their richer urban counterparts.

David Card and Lowell Taylor will study the intergenerational links between parents and children during this era of rapidly expanding, but unevenly distributed, educational opportunity, with four primary goals: First, they will document intergenerational mobility in human capital (education) for the generations under study, analyzing differences in gender, race/ethnicity, and residential location. Second, they will document variation in the resources devoted to schooling at the state, county, and metropolitan area, separately for black and white students. Next, they will evaluate the relationship between upward mobility in education and local schooling policies. Finally, they seek to understand the historical determinants of variation in educational opportunities available, to further understanding of the causal impacts of education policies on upward mobility in educational attainment.


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