Compulsory Schooling by Sex

My previous posts focused on the aggregate school attendance and literacy rates for whites before and after state century compulsory schooling laws were enacted. When aggregates fail to deviate from trend after a law is passed, the natural next step is to examine the sub groups.

How did attendance rates differ by sex before and after compulsory school attendance? I’ll illustrate a plausible story. Prior to law enactments, boys attended more school because girls were needed to perform domestic duties and the expectations for female education was lower. As a result, boys had higher literacy rates due to higher school attendance. After law enactments, both girls and boys attended school more and the difference between their attendance rates is eliminated. Similarly, literacy rates converge and differences are eliminated. In short, the story is consistent with an oppressed – or at least disadvantaged – position for girls that was corrected by compulsory schooling.

Formally, the hypotheses are:

Before compulsory attendance laws:

  • Attendance was higher for boys than it was for girls
  • The rate of attendance was increasing for both
  • Boys were more literate
  • Literacy was increasing for both girls and boys

After compulsory attendance laws:

  • Attendance rates for girls of all ages increased and remained high
  • Attendance rates for boys of all ages increased and remained high
  • The level of attendance approached parity
  • Literacy for both girls and boys increased and approached parity.

Does it hold up?

Below are the lines of best fit for girls and boys in two difference age cohorts both before and after compulsory schooling.

The story differs by age. Prior to enactment, young boys caught-up to and surpassed the rates of attendance for young girl. Older girls attended school less, but were converging to the attendance rate of older boys.

After enactment, young girls experienced a discrete increase in the rates of school attendance while young boys were little affected initially. After, just as before, the rate of increase in boy attendance rate was steeper than for girls. Older girls and boys both began to attend school more once compelled. While older boys appeared to be the most benefitted initially, their attendance began to *fall* during the period of compulsion.

So far the plausible story mostly appears true for young children. The primary exception being that boys, while attending school at higher rates just prior to enactment, earlier had *lower* attendance rates than did girls. Another glaring exception is that, while older boys did begin attending school at higher rates after enactment, the rate of attendance began to fall.

What about literacy?

Below are literacy rates pre and post enactment (only available for older children).

This figure is more surprising. Far from being uneducated, older girls were slightly *more* literate than were boys before compulsory schooling. Although post enactment the effect on the levels is ambiguous, the difference by sex is eliminated. It’s not clear whether whose trend approached whose.

Taken together, the figures imply an awkward question. What did girls get in return for their substantially improved, albeit forced, school attendance? The answer is that they traded away their literacy premium. Further, older boys had a negative attendance trend after their attendance became compulsory. That negative trend doesn’t appear to have uniquely harmed their literacy.

PS – Necessary acknowledgement of no control variables. Data source is whites only from IPUMS.

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