Journal of Population Economics

, Volume 31, Issue 2, pp 561–596 | Cite as

The effects of school desegregation on mixed-race births

  • Nora GordonEmail author
  • Sarah Reber
Original Paper


We find a strong positive raw correlation between black exposure to whites in their school district and the prevalence of later mixed-race (black-white) births, consistent with the literature on residential segregation and endogamy. However, that relationship is significantly attenuated by the addition of a few control variables, suggesting that individuals with higher propensities to have mixed-race births are more likely to live in desegregated school districts. We exploit quasi-random variation from court-ordered school desegregation to estimate causal effects of school desegregation on mixed-race childbearing, finding small to moderate effects that are largely statistically insignificant. Because the upward trend across cohorts in mixed-race childbearing was substantial, separating the effects of desegregation plans from secular cohort trends is difficult; results are sensitive to how we specify the cohort trends and to the inclusion of Chicago/Cook County in the sample. The fact that the addition of a few control variables substantially weakens the cross-sectional relationship between lower levels of school segregation and higher rates of mixed-race childbearing suggests that a substantial portion of the observed correlation is likely due to who chooses to live in places with desegregated schools. Researchers should be cautious about interpreting raw correlations between segregation—whether residential or school—and other outcomes as causal. Our results also point to the need to carefully explore specification of cohort effects in quasi-experimental designs for treatments where cumulative exposure is important.


School desegregation Interracial births Exogamy Cohort effects 

JEL classifications

I2 J12 J13 



The authors thank Sarena Goodman, Paco Martorell, Martin West, seminar participants at UCLA, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, APPAM, Georgetown, UC Irvine, the University of Virginia, and the Association for Education Finance and Policy, and two anonymous referees for helpful comments.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Georgetown University and NBERWashingtonUSA
  2. 2.UCLA and NBERLos AngelesUSA

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