NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


December 14, 2005

Brown v. Board of Education changed black education in two ways. First, it raised the quality of schooling available to southern black children. Second, it provided access to a desegregated education. A new paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research analyzes which change had the largest impact.

The authors note that during the first third of the 20th century, wide racial disparities in basic measures of school inputs such as the length of the school year and students per teacher, were the norm in the South. However, these disparities began to narrow 20 years before the Brown decision.

The authors analyzed black workers who were born in the South in the 1920s and the 1930s to determine what effect increasing education resources had on black education. They find that:

  • Southern-born black men from the 1920s birth cohorts would have earned 6 to 9 percent more than they actually did in 1970 if they had gone to "equal schools."
  • For Southern-born black men from the 1930s birth cohorts, income would have been 2 to 5 percent higher.
  • The relatively small difference indicates that this later birth cohort attended schools that were fairly similar to white schools in terms of school-year length and students per teacher.

The authors also analyzed the effects of desegregation on black education. Using 1990 Census information, they find that:

  • The earnings gap between Southern-born black men and non-Southern-born black men in the same birth cohort narrowed by about 10 percent in the post-desegregation group.
  • Desegregated education had an economically significant, positive effect on black's income and high school completion rates.

Source: David Francis, "The Effect of Brown v. Board of Education on Blacks' Earnings," NBER Digest, December 2005; based upon: Orley Ashenfelter, William Collins and Albert Yoon, "School Equalization, Desegregation, and the Income of African-Americans," National Bureau of Economic Research, Working Paper No. 11394, June 2005.

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