Topic: Race

with Nathan Wozny

Journal of Human Resources 48(3).
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Analysts often examine the black-white test score gap conditional on current family income. We describe a method for identifying the gap conditional on the family’s permanent income. Current income explains only about half as much of the black-white test gap as does permanent income, and the gap among families with the same permanent income is only 0.2 to 0.3 standard deviations in two commonly used samples. When we add permanent income to the controls used by Fryer and Levitt (2006), the unexplained gap in third grade shrinks below 0.15 SDs, less than half of what is found with their controls.

with Albert Yoon

An important criticism of race-based higher education admission preferences is that they may hurt minority students who attend more selective schools than they would in the absence of such preferences. We categorize the non-experimental research designs available for the study of so-called “mismatch” effects and evaluate the likely biases in each. We select two comparisons and use them to examine mismatch effects in law school. We find no evidence of mismatch effects on any students’ employment outcomes or on the graduation or bar passage rates of black students with moderate or strong entering credentials. What evidence there is for mismatch is concentrated among lessqualified black students who typically attend second- or third-tier schools. Many of these students would not have been admitted to any law school without preferences, however, and the resulting sample selection prevents strong conclusions.

with Albert Yoon

University of Chicago Law Review 75(2).

with David Card and Alexandre Mas

Quarterly Journal of Economics 123(1).
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Schelling (“Dynamic Models of Segregation,” Journal of Mathematical Sociology 1 (1971), 143–186) showed that extreme segregation can arise from social interactions in white preferences: once the minority share in a neighborhood exceeds a “tipping point,” all the whites leave. We use regression discontinuity methods and Census tract data from 1970 through 2000 to test for discontinuities in the dynamics of neighborhood racial composition. We find strong evidence that white population flows exhibit tipping-like behavior in most cities, with a distribution of tipping points ranging from 5% to 20% minority share. Tipping is prevalent both in the suburbs and near existing minority enclaves. In contrast to white population flows, there is little evidence of nonlinearities in rents or housing prices around the tipping point. Tipping points are higher in cities where whites have more tolerant racial attitudes.

with David Card

Journal of Public Economics 91(11-12).
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Racial segregation is often blamed for some of the achievement gap between blacks and whites. We study the effects of school and neighborhood segregation on the relative SAT scores of black students across different metropolitan areas, using large microdata samples for the 1998–2001 test cohorts. Our models include detailed controls for the family background of individual test-takers, school-level controls for selective participation in the test, and city-level controls for racial composition, income, and region. We find robust evidence that the black–white test score gap is higher in more segregated cities. Holding constant family background and other factors, a shift from a highly segregated city to a nearly integrated city closes about one-quarter of the raw black–white gap in SAT scores. Specifications that distinguish between school and neighborhood segregation suggest that neighborhood segregation has a consistently negative impact while school segregation has no independent effect, though we cannot reject equality of the two effects. Additional tests indicate that much of the effect of neighborhood segregation operates through neighbors’ incomes, not through race per se. Data on enrollment in honors courses suggest that within-school segregation increases when schools are more highly integrated, potentially offsetting the benefits of school desegregation and accounting for our findings.

with Alan Krueger and Sarah Turner

American Law and Economics Review 8(2).
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In Grutter v. Bollinger, Justice O’Connor conjectured that in 25 years affirmative action in college admissions will be unnecessary. We project the test score distribution of black and white college applicants 25 years from now, focusing on the role of black–white family income gaps. Economic progress alone is unlikely to narrow the achievement gap enough in 25 years to produce today’s racial diversity levels with race-blind admissions. A return to the rapid black–white test score convergence of the 1980s could plausibly cause black representation to approach current levels at moderately selective schools, but not at the most selective schools.

with Alan Krueger and Sarah Turner

In College Access: Opportunity or Privilege, Michael McPherson and Morton Schapiro, eds, New York: The College Board, pp. 35-46.