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Birth Cohort and the Black-White Achievement Gap: The Roles of Access and Health Soon after Birth


Kenneth Y. Chay


University of California, Berkeley - Department of Economics; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Jonathan Guryan


University of Chicago - Booth School of Business; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Bhashkar Mazumder


Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago

June 2009

NBER Working Paper No. w15078

Abstract:     
One literature documents a significant, black-white gap in average test scores, while another finds a substantial narrowing of the gap during the 1980's, and stagnation in convergence after. We use two data sources -- the Long Term Trends NAEP and AFQT scores for the universe of applicants to the U.S. military between 1976 and 1991 -- to show: 1) the 1980's convergence is due to relative improvements across successive cohorts of blacks born between 1963 and the early 1970's and not a secular narrowing in the gap over time; and 2) the across-cohort gains were concentrated among blacks in the South. We then demonstrate that the timing and variation across states in the AFQT convergence closely tracks racial convergence in measures of health and hospital access in the years immediately following birth. We show that the AFQT convergence is highly correlated with post-neonatal mortality rates and not with neonatal mortality and low birth weight rates, and that this result cannot be explained by schooling desegregation and changes in family background. We conclude that investments in health through increased access at very early ages have large, long-term effects on achievement, and that the integration of hospitals during the 1960's affected the test performance of black teenagers in the 1980's.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 74

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Date posted: June 16, 2009  

Suggested Citation

Chay, Kenneth Y. and Guryan, Jonathan and Mazumder, Bhashkar, Birth Cohort and the Black-White Achievement Gap: The Roles of Access and Health Soon after Birth (June 2009). NBER Working Paper No. w15078. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1418936

Contact Information

Kenneth Y. Chay (Contact Author)
University of California, Berkeley - Department of Economics ( email )
549 Evans Hall #3880
Berkeley, CA 94720-3880
United States
510-643-8596 (Phone)
510-642-0638 (Fax)
National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)
1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States
Jonathan Guryan
University of Chicago - Booth School of Business ( email )
5807 S. Woodlawn Avenue
Chicago, IL 60637
United States
National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)
1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States
Bhashkar Mazumder
Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago ( email )
230 South LaSalle Street
Chicago, IL 60604
United States
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References:  37
Citations:  12
Footnotes:  38

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