"The Fewer, The Merrier": Compulsory Schooling Laws, Education, and Fertility in the United States

Juan Manuel Puerta, Universitat Pompeu Fabra

I investigate the effect of the introduction of compulsory schooling laws on education and fertility in the United States, 1850-1920. I find that compulsory schooling was associated with a 7 percent increase in enrollment and with a 15 percent decline in the fertility of women of reproductive age. My identication strategy is based on a difference-in-differences (DID) methodology involving individuals living in the vicinity of the state border where legislation changed. The results are robust to the inclusion of a number of socio-demographic and geographic controls. The effects on education are particularly strong for black children, whereas the effects on fertility are concentrated among young women. The results suggest that compulsory schooling laws may be a crucial policy for hastening both the demographic transition, and the transition to modern growth.

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Presented in Session 147: Family and Household in Historical and Comparative Perspective