In many places around the country, carefully planned school integration is a thing of the past. Objections over long commutes for children and the costs of busing, as well as debates over academic achievement and racial tension, have meant that many school districts once again look like they might have decades ago: segregated and unequal.
There is a theory—academics call it “perpetuation”—that racial isolation, even in school, can have lasting effects on kids’ lives, shaping their earnings and occupation down the line. While scholars and school districts continue to debate the impact of school segregation on children, a recent paper focuses more narrowly, investigating the link between the racial composition of one’s high school and the the workplace.
In order to do that, the researchers Adam Gamoran, Sarah Barfels, and Ana Cristina Collares used two data sets from the U.S. Department of Education—one that started in 1980 and the other in 1990—that each tracked more than 10,000 high-school students at two-year intervals for about a decade. This allows them to observe respondents as they enter the workforce and report back on factors such as occupation, income, and the racial diversity of their workplace.
For some of the more widely discussed measures of a demographic group’s economic progress—things like employment rates and earnings—the study didn’t find significant correlations between the racial makeup of one’s high school and an individual’s eventual success. But there was a link between the racial composition of a student’s high school and how integrated (or not) their eventual workplace wound up being.