Workshop 3: The Effects of School Desegregation on Crime

The 3rd 2013/2014 Workshop on Quantitative Methods in Education, Health and the Social Sciences (QMEHSS) will be on Friday January 24th from 11:00-12:30 and will be led by Dr. Jens Ludwig.   The seminar will be held in the NORC conference room 344.  NORC is located at 1155 E. 60th Street.


The Effects of School Desegregation on Crime

Jens Ludwig, University of Chicago

(with David A. Weiner, University of Pennsylvania, Byron F. Lutz, Federal Reserve Board of Governors, and Kerwin Charles, University of Chicago)

One of the most striking features of crime in America is its disproportionate concentration in disadvantaged, racially segregated communities, which has long raised concern that segregation itself may contribute to criminal behavior. Yet little is known about whether government efforts to reduce segregation can reduce crime. A number of randomized lottery studies that examine housing voucher and school choice programs have shown that moving into a lower-poverty, less racially segregated social context can generate large reductions in criminal behavior, particularly violent crime. But those studies are only informative about the effects of changing school contexts on those who change, and are silent about the consequences for people in the origin and destination social contexts. Put differently, lottery studies are informative about the partial equilibrium effects of policies to desegregate schools or neighborhoods, but not about the general equilibrium (or system-wide aggregate) effects. We address this question by studying the most important large-scale policy to reduce segregation in American life - court-ordered school desegregation. Our research design exploits variation across large urban school districts in the timing of when they were subject to local Federal court orders to desegregate. We show that the timing of when these orders are implemented seems to be unrelated to pre-existing trends in crime or other social conditions in these school districts, although our design cannot isolate the exact reason why the timing of these orders varies across districts. Put differently, the exact source of identifying variation in our system-level analysis remains something of a black box. We find that for black youth, homicide victimization declines by around 25 percent when court orders are implemented; homicide arrests decline significantly as well. We also find evidence for spillover effects on other age and race groups, consistent with data indicating a sizable amount of offending across groups and with our simple model of the determinants of inter-personal violence. The only detectable life-course-persistent effects are found among birth cohorts that attended desegregated schools.