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Working Paper Series

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


  • Rucker Johnson, Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley


  • Goldman School of Public Policy 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.

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