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The Long Run Impacts of Court-Ordered Desegregation

Working Paper Number CES-22-11
GARRETT ANSTREICHER, JASON FLETCHER, AND OWEN THOMPSON

Abstract

Court ordered desegregation plans were implemented in hundreds of US school districts nationwide from the 1960s through the 1980s, and were arguably the most substantive national attempt to improve educational access for African American children in modern American history. Using large Census samples that are linked to Social Security records containing county of birth, we implement event studies that estimate the long run effects of exposure to desegregation orders on human capital and labor market outcomes. We find that African Americans who were relatively young when a desegregation order was implemented in their county of birth, and therefore had more exposure to integrated schools, experienced large improvements in adult human capital and labor market outcomes relative to Blacks who were older when a court order was locally implemented. There are no comparable changes in outcomes among whites in counties undergoing an order, or among Blacks who were beyond school ages when a local order was implemented. These effects are strongly concentrated in the South, with largely null findings in other regions. Our data and methodology provide the most comprehensive national assessment to date on the impacts of court ordered desegregation, and strongly indicate that these policies were in fact highly effective at improving the long run socioeconomic outcomes of many Black students.

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