The black-white earnings gap has historically been larger in the South than in other regions of the United States. This paper shows that this regional gap has closed over time, and in fact reversed during the last decades of the twentieth century. Three proposed explanations for this trend focus on changing patterns of selective migration, reduced discrimination in Southern labor markets, and lower levels of school segregation and school resource disparities in the modern South relative to the North. Evidence suggests that reductions in Southern labor market discrimination explain rapid regional convergence in racial wage gaps between 1960 and 1980. The more recent decline and reversal of the regional difference appears to be related to narrower disparities in school quality and lower segregation levels in the South. Controlling for region of birth and region of residence, young adult blacks and whites who were educated in the South have the narrowest disparities in earnings and other socioeconomic outcomes.

Document Type

Research Paper

Publication Date


Discussion Paper Number

DP 2004-05