In this paper I study the impact of court-mandated school desegregation, which began in the late 1950s, on White individuals’ racial attitudes and politics in adulthood. Using geocoded nationwide data from the General Social Survey, I compare outcomes between respondents living in the same county who were differentially exposed to desegregated schools, based on respondent age and the year of court-mandated integration. With this differences-in-differences approach, I find that exposure to desegregated schools increased White individuals’ conservatism and negatively impacted their racial attitudes and support for policies promoting racial equity, such as affirmative action. Heterogeneity analyses indicate that effects are particularly pronounced in counties where opposition to integration was strongest: Southern counties desegregating after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and counties where support for the Democratic presidential candidate between the 1960 and 1968 elections substantially decreased. My study provides causal evidence for key tenets of the contact hypothesis, which theorizes that Black-White contact in integrated schools can improve outgroup racial attitudes only under certain conditions, including when this intergroup contact has institutional support.
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