Differential Fertility, Intergenerational Educational Mobility, and Racial Inequality

Mare, Robert
Working paper no. 1997-03


Recent commentary has suggested that the relatively high fertility of poorly educated women tends to dampen the average intellectual qualifications of the population. To evaluate this claim requires a model of population growth that takes account of fertility differences among women with varying levels of educational attainment and patterns of intergenerational educational mobility. This paper describes such a model and applies it to census, vital statistics, and survey data on fertility, mortality, and intergenerational mobility data for African-American and white women in the United States from 1925 to 1995. Although fertility rates are generally higher for women at the lower end of the educational distribution, this has had a negligible effect on the trend in average educational attainment. These fertility differences are neither large enough nor consistent enough to lower educational attainment. More important, high rates of intergenerational educational mobility almost completely offset the effects of differential fertility. Although black women have historically had more children than white women, fertility differences within and between the races have not had much effect impact on educational inequality between the races. Indeed, in the most recent period, only white women continue to exhibit a negative correlation between education and fertility. Thus, if recent fertility patterns persist, they will accelerate a convergence of educational attainment between blacks and whites.