Paul Attewell, Thurston Domina Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant Doctoral Dissertation Research: Educational Segration in the United States

Even as racial and class segregation has gradually declined over the last half century, the United States has become increasingly segregated by educational attainment. In 1940, less than 5% of the adult U.S. population had a bachelor's degree or higher, but these college graduates were scattered relatively evenly across the American landscape. Today, more than 25% of American adults have completed a college education, but college graduates are highly concentrated. More than half of America's college graduates live in 10% of its counties, while vast stretches of the United States have small and declining populations of college graduates.

This dissertation will use data from the decennial U.S. Census to document the rise of educational segregation at the county and the census tract level. It will isolate the migration streams that underlie rising levels of educational segregation, using Census data, along with longitudinal Current Population Survey (CPS) and the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY) data. Finally, this dissertation will consider the wide-ranging consequences of educational segregation. Human capital concentration has spillover effects for children's education, bringing increased educational opportunities to children who grow up in human capital hubs (regardless of their own parents' educations), and denying opportunities to children in areas experiencing brain drain. It is also major factor behind the geographic polarization of American political culture. While individual educational attainment does not predict voting behavior, brain drain counties consistently deliver overwhelming Republican majorities, while brain gain counties consistently vote Democratic.

By advancing our understanding of educational segregation as a broad demographic phenomenon, this project will contribute to efforts to stem depopulation in areas undergoing brain drain and to stimulate more equitable economic and educational development patterns. Legislation designed to slow rural depopulation is currently pending in the U.S. Congress and in several American statehouses. Meanwhile, local governments across the county search for effective economic development strategies. This dissertation's findings will be directly relevant to these policy discussions.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Social and Economic Sciences (SES)
Standard Grant (Standard)
Application #
Program Officer
Paul S. Ciccantell
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
CUNY Graduate School University Center
New York
United States
Zip Code