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Rucker Johnson

Associate Professor of Public Policy

Rucker Johnson

Areas of Expertise

  • Poverty & Inequality
  • Social Welfare
  • Labor and Employment
  • Urban Economics


Rucker C. Johnson is an Associate Professor in the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley. His graduate and postdoctoral training is in labor and health economics. He received his Ph.D. in economics in 2002 from the University of Michigan and was the recipient of three national dissertation awards. Johnson was a Robert Wood Johnson Scholar in Health Policy from 2002 to 2004. His work considers the role of poverty and inequality in affecting life chances. He has focused on such topics as low-wage labor markets, spatial mismatch, the societal consequences of incarceration, the socioeconomic determinants of health disparities over the life course, and the effects of growing up poor and poor infant health on childhood cognition, child health, educational attainment, and later-life health and socioeconomic success.


Curriculum Vitae

Download a PDF (299KB, updated 06-19-2014)

Working Papers

  • The Effects of Residential Segregation during Childhood on Life Chances

    GSPP Working Paper (May 2012)

    Human capital accumulation may depend on the neighborhood in which one grows up through a
    variety of channels, including access to school resources, health and social service funding,
    neighborhood crime, peer and role model effects, proximity to a chemical dumping ground or
    related environmental hazards, and connectedness to job networks and informal sources of
    support. This paper provides new causal estimates of the effects of racial residential segregation
    during childhood on subsequent adult attainment outcomes. I account for the potential
    endogeneity of segregation and neighborhood location choice using instrumental variables based
    on 19th Century railroad track configurations, historical migration patterns, political factors, and
    topographical features. Following Ananat (2011), it is shown that cities that were subdivided by
    railroads into a greater number of physically-defined neighborhoods became significantly more
    segregated after the Great Migration of African-Americans to northern and western cities. To
    examine the consequences of segregation during childhood, this study analyzes the life
    trajectories of children born since 1950 and followed through 2009. Data from the Panel Study
    of Income Dynamics (PSID) spanning four decades are linked with information on neighborhood
    attributes and school quality resources that prevailed at the time these children were growing up.
    Results from 2SLS/IV models demonstrate that, for blacks, the level of racial residential
    segregation during childhood negatively impacts subsequent educational attainment, reduces the
    likelihood of high school graduation, increases the probability of incarceration, reduces adult
    earnings and the likelihood of intergenerational mobility, increases the annual incidence of
    poverty in adulthood, and leads to worse health status in adulthood; segregation effects for
    whites were not statistically significant across each of these outcomes but the point estimates were
    in the opposite direction of the corresponding estimates for blacks. The results are consistent
    with prior research that has found that increased segregation leads to more inequality in spending
    across districts of the same MSA, thus worsening the relative position of poorer districts.

    Download a PDF (5MB)

  • The Grandchildren of Brown: The Long Legacy of School Desegregation

    GSPP Working Paper (March 2012)

    In the US, there is a high degree of persistence in economic status and health status across
    generations, particularly in the lower and upper tails of the income distribution. For example, it
    has been shown that 42 percent of men raised in the bottom quintile of incomes remain there as
    adults, while only 8 percent of US men at the bottom rise to the top quintile (Jantti et al., 2007).
    While public policies that promote equalization of educational opportunity have been
    emphasized as keys to break the intergenerational cycle of poverty, there exists limited causal
    evidence of the mechanisms that underlie intergenerational immobility. Few studies have
    attempted to isolate the causal effect of education on the next generation’s well-being. This is in
    part due to formidable empirical challenges that arise from the paucity of large nationallyrepresentative data sets with information both on parental and child outcomes over the life cycle, and the difficult search for a credible identification strategy.

    This paper uses the Panel Study of Income Dynamics spanning 4 decades (PSID: 1968-2009) to
    link three generations of adult outcomes. The analyses exploit the historical period and quasirandom timing of court-ordered school desegregation to quantify the extent to which children’s well-being can be improved by increased parental education and document the intergenerational
    returns to education. The first stage of the analysis (using the “parent sample” that consists of
    cohorts born between 1950-1970) builds on prior findings that demonstrate for blacks, school
    desegregation significantly increased educational attainment, with no significant desegregation
    effects on whites’ educational outcomes (Johnson, 2011). The present study provides new
    evidence on the causal influence of parental education across generations by using the timing of
    initial court orders and resultant differences in childhood exposure to school desegregation as an
    instrument for parental education, linked (in the second stage) with their children’s subsequent
    life outcomes (using the “child sample” that consists of cohorts born since 1980). The 2SLS/IV
    framework and intergenerational research design utilized enables this work to assess the impact
    of school desegregation on children and their families into the third generation. I find a
    considerable impact of school desegregation that persists to influence the outcomes of the next
    generation, including increased math and reading test scores, reduced likelihood of grade
    repetition, increased likelihood of high school graduation and college attendance, improvements
    in college quality/selectivity, and increased racial diversity of student body at their selected
    college. The findings demonstrate that part of the intergenerational transmission of inequality
    can be attributable to school quality related influences. The results in turn highlight parental
    education as a causal determinant of generational mobility.

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  • School Quality and the Long-run Effects of Head Start

    GSPP Working Paper (March 2012)

    This paper contributes to the Head Start literature by providing a unified evaluation of long-run impacts on adult outcomes across several domains. In addition to the extensive literature on the impacts of Head Start on test scores, the present study builds on and contributes to a burgeoning literature investigating long-term impacts of early life interventions (childhood programs in the first decade of life). The paper’s results complement the findings of studies on the long-term impacts of other early childhood interventions, such as the Perry and Abecederian preschool demonstrations, Nurse-Family Partnership, and kindergarten class size in the Tennessee STAR experiment (Chetty et al., 2010), which also find lasting impacts on adult outcomes despite fade-out on test scores.

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  • Educational Consequences of the End of Court-Ordered Desegregation

    GSPP Working Paper (March 2012)

    The present paper combines this comprehensive data on the timing of court releases from desegregation
    plans of more than 200 school districts that occurred since 1990 (obtained from Reardon et al.) with nationally-representative longitudinal micro data of children born since 1980 followed through 2009. Inparticular, I use the Panel Study of Income Dynamics and its Child Development Supplement (PSIDCDS) matched to children’s school and neighborhood characteristics and school desegregation policyvariables. Using an event study framework and difference-in-difference model, I examine the impacts of the termination of mandated desegregation plans on academic achievement outcomes, including cognitive test scores, high school graduation rates, educational attainment, and non-cognitive behavioral outcomes, separately by race. Preliminary results show that the increased allocation of school resources to those in high poverty, minority neighborhoods following the release of continued court oversight actually served to mitigate the potential negative impacts of resegregation on black student achievement (at least in the short-run).

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  • The Impact of Parental Wealth on College Enrollment & Degree Attainment: Evidence from the Housing

    GSPP Working Paper (January 2011)

    A long-standing policy goal of aid is to narrow, if not close, the parental income gap in
    children’s subsequent educational attainment. Recent research indicates that credit constraints
    have played a larger role in college enrollment and completion rates over the past 15-20 years
    (Lochner and Monge-Naranjo, 2011; Lovenheim, 2011). Prior evidence found greater credit
    constraints in the US than Canada (Belley et al., 2009). Housing wealth has become an
    increasingly important component of the college enrollment decision over the past 15 years
    (Bound et al., 2010). The parental wealth depletion following the Great Recession and housing
    market collapse has potentially important implications for college prospects of our youth. A
    recent survey of young adults found that 20% aged 18-29 have left or delayed college
    (Greenberg and Keating 2009). A survey conducted in Colorado found that 1/4 of parents with
    children in 2-year colleges planned on sending their kids to 4-year institutions before the
    recession (CollegeInvest 2009).

    This study provides new evidence on the impact of parental wealth on educational attainment. In
    order to address the endogeneity of parental wealth, the empirical strategy analyzes parental
    housing wealth changes induced by local housing booms of the late 1990s and early 2000s, and
    the subsequent housing bust of the 2007-2009 period. Using geocoded data from the Panel
    Study of Income Dynamics (1968-2009) linked to MSA housing price data from the Federal
    Housing Finance Agency, I examine how changes in parental housing equity in the four years
    prior to their child being college-age affect the likelihood that the child attends college and
    where they attend (2-year vs. 4-year; in-state vs out-of-state; college quality). This provides a
    test of the role of parental wealth (and potential credit constraints) in influencing post-secondary
    decisions, including if, when, and where individuals attend and complete college.

    Download a PDF (253KB)

  • Who’s on the Bus? The Role of Schools as a Vehicle to Intergenerational Mobility

    GSPP Working Paper (March 2010)

    Access to quality schools and educational resources for children are
    key engines of upward mobility in the US, holding the potential to break the cycle of
    poverty from one generation to the next. Residential segregation by race and class that
    leads to unequal access to quality schools is often cited as a culprit in perpetuating
    inequality in attainment outcomes. However, the role of child neighborhood and school
    quality factors in contributing to the intergenerational persistence of economic status, and
    as sources of racial differences in rates of intergenerational mobility, have received little
    attention in the literature.

    This paper analyzes the effects of the court-ordered desegregation plans of public
    schools, implemented in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, on the extent of intergenerational
    mobility. I exploit the wide variation in the timing of implementation of desegregation
    plans to identify their effects. The empirical analysis makes two unique contributions by
    investigating: (1) the effects of court-ordered desegregation plans of public schools on
    adult socioeconomic attainment outcomes and attempts to separately identify the effects
    of neighborhood and school quality; and (2) the role of childhood school and
    neighborhood quality in contributing to racial differences in intergenerational mobility.

    Download a PDF (33KB)

  • Race Differences in the Incidence & Duration of Exposure to Concentrated Poverty over the Life Cours

    GSPP Working Paper (December 2008)

    This study is among the first to use nationally-representative data from the US to analyze
    the persistence in neighborhood quality over the life course. The analysis utilizes the
    Panel Study of Income Dynamics, spanning 1968-2005, and follows a cohort born
    between 1951 and 1970 from childhood into adulthood. I examine the extent of upward
    and downward residential mobility/instability from childhood through mid-adulthood
    using PSID geocoded neighborhood information and residential location patterns over 35
    years. Characterizing the length of exposure to poor neighborhood conditions for
    different demographic groups also serves to shed light on the age-profile of neighborhood
    effects on later-life attainments, including adult health and economic status.

    The results highlight substantial race differences in the incidence and duration of
    exposure to concentrated poverty over the life course. The study reveals high rates of
    immobility from poor neighborhoods over the life course, especially among AfricanAmericans. The results demonstrate that the average black child spent ¼ of childhood years in high poverty neighborhoods, one-third of early-to-mid adulthood years in high
    poverty neighborhoods, and fifteen percent of adulthood years lived in low poverty
    neighborhoods. This is in stark contrast to those rates for the average white child, who
    spent just three percent of childhood and adulthood years in high poverty neighborhoods,
    spent eighty percent of childhood years in low poverty neighborhoods, and more than
    half of early-to-mid adulthood years in low poverty neighborhoods. The analysis shows
    that black-white differences in adulthood exposure to neighborhood poverty are largely
    accounted for by differences in the likelihood of being born into a poor neighborhood,
    and to a lesser extent by differences in rates of upward and downward socioeconomic
    mobility over the life course.

    Download a PDF (73KB)

  • The Place of Race in Hypertension: How Family Background and Neighborhood Conditions in Childhood

    GSPP Working Paper (October 2008)

    This paper investigates the role of family background and neighborhood conditions over
    the life course, particularly during childhood, in influencing health later in life, with a focus on
    the case of hypertension. Most of the black-white difference in life expectancy stem from racial
    differences in mortality rates prior to age 65. Thus, understanding sources of racial health
    disparities requires the investigation of exposures to socioeconomic conditions and risk factors
    earlier in the life cycle. Blacks’ higher prevalence of cardiovascular disease-related risk factors
    account for more than half of the racial disparity in life expectancy (Barghaus, Cutler, Fryer, and
    Glaeser, 2007), with hypertension the leading culprit.

    For a US cohort born between 1951 and 1970, I produce nationally representative
    estimates of the onset of hypertension through mid-life by race/ethnicity, childhood
    socioeconomic status, and childhood neighborhood poverty. I provide evidence on the
    consequences of childhood neighborhood poverty on the risks of hypertension; this is the first
    such study of the full US population. I use nationally representative longitudinal data from the
    US spanning nearly four decades to estimate hazard models of onset of hypertension. The data
    set, the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID), has the additional unique feature of allowing
    analyses of siblings and child neighbors throughout much of their life course. I use the
    resemblance between neighboring children’s subsequent likelihood of hypertension in adulthood
    in comparison to the similarity between siblings to bound the proportion of inequality in this
    health condition that can be attributed to disparities in neighborhood and family background. I
    estimate four-level hierarchical random effects hazard models of the onset of hypertension, which
    provide a better understanding of the relative importance of family and neighborhood
    backgrounds. The results demonstrate that both childhood neighborhood conditions and family
    background influence the disease process and risk of hypertension later in life.

    I find childhood neighborhood poverty and its attendant stressors play an influential role
    in shaping risks of onset of hypertension in middle-age. Other notable neighborhood factors that
    were shown to influence risks of onset of hypertension in adulthood include childhood
    neighborhood crime exposure and county per-pupil school expenditures. Notable family
    background factors include birth weight, parental health status, and parental socioeconomic
    status. These effects appear linked in part to low intergenerational economic mobility,
    particularly among blacks. The results indicate that racial differences in these early life
    neighborhood conditions and family background characteristics play a significant role in
    explaining racial disparities in hypertension through at least age 50, while contemporaneous
    economic factors account for relatively little of the racial disparities in this health condition in

    Download a PDF (316KB)

  • Intergenerational Risks of Criminal Involvement and Incarceration

    GSPP Working Paper (April 2007)

    This paper provides nationally-representative estimates of the cumulative risks of
    incarceration and obtaining a criminal record by age 40 for a cohort born between 1951-
    1975. I show that men born in the 1960s/early 1970s have significantly greater
    cumulative lifetime risks of imprisonment than similarly-aged men born in the 1950s.
    This is in part a direct consequence of the transformation of incarceration and sentencing
    policy that took off in the 1980s. The racial disparities in lifetime incarceration risks are
    alarming. The results highlight that among black low-educated men, one-half either died
    or had been incarceration before the age of 40.

    Second, this analysis uses an innovative approach to investigate the relative
    importance of family background and neighborhood context on deviant behavior over the
    life course, including ever being expelled, criminal involvement, ever being incarcerated,
    the early formation of risk preferences, and risky health behaviors. Particularly
    noteworthy, the analysis of brother and male child neighbor correlations in adult
    incarceration history revealed remarkably high correlations of 0.69 and 0.54,
    respectively. These results highlight the profound influence that family and/or
    neighborhood background has on criminal involvement and risks of imprisonment.
    Moreover, the results suggest that neighborhood quality during childhood is a significant
    gatekeeper of the intergenerational transmission of deviant behavior and incarceration
    risks among males.

    Third, this study examines the intergenerational consequences by examining
    children of the next generation. I find, using the PSID-CDS data, that the prevalence
    rates of parental incarceration at some point during childhood are significantly larger than
    point-in-time estimates. I find that 20 percent of black children had a father with an
    incarceration history; and among black children with fathers who did not graduate from
    high school, an alarming 33 percent of their father’s had an incarceration history.
    Fourth, this study is among the first longitudinal child-outcome studies that
    examines the role of pre-incarceration risk factors and children’s living arrangements,
    parent-child relationships and substitute caregiver-child relationships, to help determine
    the impact of parental incarceration on families and children.

    I find linkages between exposure to parental incarceration and child behavioral
    outcomes. The pattern of results is remarkably similar across all of the empirical
    approaches utilized that address omitted variables bias—including hierarchical random
    effects models with an unusually extensive set of controls, family fixed effect models,
    child fixed effect models, and instrumental variables estimates. This study bears
    evidence on the extent to which parental incarceration has exacerbated racial disparities
    in childhood and in early adulthood.

    Download a PDF (449KB)

Selected Publications

Up from Poverty: Funding Solutions That Work

Up from Poverty: Funding Solutions That Work

Hilary Hoynes, Rucker Johnson, Henry E. Brady

Date: May 7, 2016 Duration: 59 minutes

The Grandchildren of Brown: The Long Legacy of School Desegregation

The Grandchildren of Brown: The Long Legacy of School Desegregation

Rucker Johnson, Ophelia Garmon-Brown, Julian Wright, Rosie Molinary, Ivan Lowe

Event: The Grandchildren of Brown: The Long Legacy of School Desegregation

Date: November 12, 2015 Duration: 107 minutes

Desegregation and (Un)equal Opportunity

Desegregation and (Un)equal Opportunity

Rucker Johnson

Date: November 19, 2012 Duration: 18 minutes