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Long-Term Correlates of High School Racial Composition: Perpetuation Theory Reexamined


by Elizabeth Stearns - 2010

Background/Context: Perpetuation theory predicts that attending a racially segregated school paves the way for a lifetime of segregated experiences in neighborhoods, schools, and jobs. Research conducted in the 1970s and 1980s linked racial isolation in high schools with later racial isolation in many social settings among African-American students. Racial isolation in the workplace is particularly important to study given that it is an indicator of social cohesion and has been linked with lower levels of pay for workers of color.

Purpose: This study updates much of this research, focusing on the extent to which young adults are racially isolated in the workplace for a more contemporary and racially/ethnically diverse sample.

Research Design: Using the National Education Longitudinal Study, I conduct ordinary least squares regression with Huber/White/sandwich robust variance estimates and a correction for clustered observations.

Findings: I find that the racial composition of high schools has a long-term effect on the extent to which young adults are racially isolated in the workplace. I find that exposure to other racial groups in high school—specifically, exposure to Asian American, Latino, and African American students for White students, and exposure to Latinos and Whites for African American students—reduces their racial isolation in workplace settings after high school. These effects are remarkable in that they are being detected net of measures of region, high school resources, and individual resources, and particularly net of residential isolation in the neighborhoods that the students lived in during the survey period.

Conclusions: This study’s findings are consistent with perpetuation theory, which highlights the long-term effects of attending segregated schools across multiple social settings. It offers additional reasons to be concerned about the resegregation of America’s schools: As they resegregate, additional racial isolation in the workplace is expected to follow.



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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 112 Number 6, 2010, p. 1654-1678
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 15693, Date Accessed: 8/22/2019 10:53:30 PM

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About the Author
  • Elizabeth Stearns
    University of North Carolina at Charlotte
    E-mail Author
    ELIZABETH STEARNS is assistant professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Her research interests include racial and gender inequalities in student outcomes. Recent publications have appeared in Social Science Research and The Merrill-Palmer Quarterly.
 
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