The Labor of Division: Returns to Compulsory High School Math Coursework

50 Pages Posted: 2 Feb 2017

See all articles by Joshua Goodman

Joshua Goodman

Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS)

Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper

Date Written: January 1, 2017


Despite great focus on and public investment in STEM education, little causal evidence connects quantitative coursework to students’ economic outcomes. I show that state changes in minimum high school math requirements substantially increase black students’ completed math coursework and their later earnings. The marginal student’s return to an additional math course is 10 percent, roughly half the return to a year of high school, and is partly explained by a shift toward more cognitively skilled occupations. Whites’ coursework and earnings are unaffected. Rigorous standards for quantitative coursework can close meaningful portions of racial gaps in economic outcomes.

Keywords: Math Coursework, Curriculum, High School Graduation Requirements, Return to Schooling, Black-White Earnings Gap

JEL Classification: I24, I28, J24, J31

Suggested Citation

Goodman, Joshua, The Labor of Division: Returns to Compulsory High School Math Coursework (January 1, 2017). HKS Working Paper No. RWP17-004. Available at SSRN: or

Joshua Goodman (Contact Author)

Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) ( email )

79 John F. Kennedy Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States


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