Titus Galama
Andrei Munteanu
Kevin Thom

Using linked records from the 1880 to 1940 full-count United States decennial censuses, we estimate the effects of parental exposure to compulsory schooling (CS) laws on the human capital outcomes of children, exploiting the staggered roll-out of state CS laws in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. CS reforms not only increased the educational attainment of exposed individuals, but also that of their children. We find that one extra year of maternal (paternal) exposure to CS increased children's educational attainment by 0.015 (0.016) years - larger than the average effects on the parents themselves, and larger than the few existing intergenerational estimates from studies of more recent reforms. We find particularly large effects on black families and first-born sons. Exploring mechanisms, we find suggestive evidence that higher parental exposure to CS affected children's outcomes through higher own human capital, marriage to more educated spouses, and a higher propensity to reside in neighborhoods with greater school resources (teacher-to-student ratios) and with higher average educational attainment.

Publication Type
Working Paper
File Description
First version, January 22, 2024
JEL Codes
E24: Employment; Unemployment; Wages; Intergenerational Income Distribution; Aggregate Human Capital
H52: National Government Expenditures and Education
J15: Economics of Minorities, Races, and Immigrants; Non-labor Discrimination
J12: Marriage; Marital Dissolution; Family Structure; Domestic Abuse
educational attainment
19th century
maternal education
racial disparities