Mass Incarceration and Stopped Convergence in Black-White Educational Attainment
56 Pages Posted: 7 Jun 2022
Date Written: May 30, 2022
The Black-White gap in educational attainment in the U.S. narrowed between the 1960s and the mid-1980s. Nevertheless, it began to widen since the late 1980s, with Black men experiencing a greater decline than Black women in their educational attainment. This paper studies how childhood exposure to mass incarceration affects high school completion for young Black adults. To establish causality, I construct an instrumental variable for the incarceration rate, which exploits sentencing harshness across states and over years. I find that a 1 percentage point increase in the Black male incarceration rate that a young Black man was exposed to between 13 and 18 years decreases his likelihood of completing high school by 2.3 percentage points. Moreover, the negative effect is mainly driven by exposure to higher incarceration rates at the extensive margin (i.e., higher risks of incarceration conditional on arrest), rather than at the intensive margin (i.e., increased length of time served).
Keywords: Mass incarceration, criminal justice, sentencing, education, high school completion, Black-White education gap.
JEL Classification: I21, J13, K14.
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