Understanding the Long-Run Effects of School Desegregation on Political and Social Preferences

Project: Research project

Project Details


From a theoretical perspective the effect of being bused on students’ attitudes and preferences is a priori ambiguous. On one hand, according to Allport’s (1954) contact hypothesis, personal interactions between majority and minority group members can, under appropriate conditions, reduce prejudice.1 One may, therefore, hope that school desegregation helped to reduce racial animus. The effect of busing may even extent to preference domains beyond race. For instance, being exposed to a more diverse set of peers might have changed adolescents’ ideological outlook and made them more other-regarding in general. On the other hand, school desegregation was such an unpopular policy that many large American cities experienced political upheaval and violent demonstrations by predominantly white protesters. It is, therefore, also plausible that forced busing reinforced rather the reduced pre-existing ideological cleavages and racial resentment. Ultimately, whether and, if so, how school desegregation impacted the attitudes and preferences of the affected children is an empirical question. Answering it requires new, well-identified evidence. The goal of this project is to provide such evidence. To do so, we intend to collect and carefully analyze original data on thousands of students who participated in a natural experiment in Louisville, KY.2 In December of 1974, a federal appeals court ordered that the Louisville and Jefferson County public school systems be merged and desegregated. At the time, the Louisville school district served roughly as many black as white children. Yet, about 80% of white students attended schools that were at least 90% white, and 76% of black students were enrolled in schools that were at least 90% black. By contrast, with a black enrollment level of about 4%, the surrounding Jefferson County public school system was nearly all-white (Sedler 2007).
Effective start/end date8/15/207/31/23


  • National Science Foundation (SES-2018869)


Explore the research topics touched on by this project. These labels are generated based on the underlying awards/grants. Together they form a unique fingerprint.