Formal schooling has a significant impact on modern agricultural productivity but there is little evidence quantifying the historical importance of schools in the early development of the American agricultural sector. I present new data from the Midwest at the start of the twentieth century showing that the emerging public schools were helping farmers successfully adapt to a variety of agricultural innovations. I use a unique dataset of farmers containing detailed geographical information to estimate both the private returns to schooling and human capital spillovers across neighboring farms. The results indicate that public schools contributed substantially to agricultural productivity at the turn of the century and that a large portion of this contribution came through human capital spillovers. These findings offer new insights into why the Midwest was a leader in the expansion of secondary education.
New paper by John Parman at William & Mary. Need to read this.