Abstract: I examine how the shift from an exam to a district based high school assignment rule impacts intergenerational mobility and residential inequality. A stylized model predicts that under district assignment, household income relative to one’s ability becomes a stronger predictor of achievement, and higher income households sort towards and increase housing prices in the better school districts. I test predictions utilizing a unique policy change from South Korea in the 1970s. High school admission had traditionally been exam based in South Korea. However, between 1974 and 1980 the central government shifted several cities to a school district based system. I find that the reform increased intergenerational income elasticity from 0.15 to 0.31, and that higher income households migrated to the reform cities. I next examine whether school districting altered residential land prices within a city using a first differenced boundary discontinuity design. By focusing on the immediate years before and after the creation of school districts in Seoul, I find that residential land prices increased by about 13% point more on average and by about 26% point across boundaries in the better school district. In sum, I find that the shift from a merit to a location based student assignment rule decreases intergenerational mobility and increases residential inequality.
Professor Lee's research intersects the fields of economic development, political economy, urban economics and public economics, and regionally focuses on Korea and East Asia. Some of his recent research on Korea examines the impact of economic sanctions on the urban elites in North Korea and the impact of education policy on intergenerational mobility in South Korea. His research also examines entrepreneurship and urban growth, the efficacy of disaster aid delivery, and the relationship between aid and trade. Professor Lee is a member of the US-Korea Scholar-Policymaker Nexus Program organized by the Mansfield Foundation and the Korea Foundation. He received his PhD in economics from Brown University, master of public policy from Duke University, and bachelor degree in architecture from Seoul National University. As he made the transition from architecture to economics, he worked as an architecture designer and real estate development consultant.