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Education and Income in the Early Twentieth Century: Evidence from the Prairies

  • Claudia Goldin (a1) and Lawrence F. Katz (a1)
  • DOI:
  • Published online: 26 July 2012

We present the first estimates of the returns to years of schooling before 1940 using a large sample of individuals (from the 1915 Iowa State Census). The returns to a year of high school or college were substantial in 1915—about 11 percent for all males and in excess of 12 percent for young males. Education enabled individuals to enter lucrative white-collar jobs, but sizable educational wage differentials also existed within occupational groups. Returns were substantial even for those in farming. We find, using U.S. census data, that returns to education decreased between 1915 and 1940 and again during the 1940s.

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Claudia Goldin , and Lawrence F. Katz . “The Origins of Technology-Skill Complementarity.” Quarterly Journal of Economics 113 (081998): 693732.

Claudia Goldin , and Lawrence F. Katz . “Human Capital and Social Capital: The Rise of Secondary Schooling In America, 1910–1940.” Journal of Interdisciplinary History 29 (Winter1999): 683723.

Claudia Goldin , and Lawrence F. Katz . “The Shaping of Higher Education: The Formative Years in the United States, 1890 to 1940.” Journal of Economic Perspectives 13 (Winter1999): 3762.

Claudia Goldin , and Robert A. Margo . “The Great Compression: The Wage Structure in the United States at Mid-Century.” Quarterly Journal of Economics 107 (021992): 134.

Wallace. Huffinan “Human Capital: Education and Agriculture.” In Handbook of Agricultural Economics, edited by G. Rausser and B. Gardner . Amsterdam: North Holland Press, 2000, forthcoming.

Lee Lillard , James P. Smith , and Finis Welch . “What Do We Really Know about Wages? The Importance of Nonreporting and Census Imputation.” Journal of Political Economy 94 (061986): 489506.

Daniel Scott. Smith “‘The Number and Quality of Children’: Education and Marital Fertility in Early Twentieth-Century Iowa.” Journal of Social History 30 (Winter1996): 367–93.

Finis. Welch Education in Production.” Journal of Political Economy 78 (01/021970): 3559.

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