Can forced assimilation policies successfully integrate immigrant groups? This paper examines how a specific assimilation policy – language restrictions in elementary school – affects integration and identification with the host country later in life. After World War I, several US states barred the German language from their schools. I find that affected individuals were less likely to volunteer in WWII and more likely to marry within their ethnic group and to choose decidedly German names for their offspring. Rather than facilitating the assimilation of immigrant children, the policy instigated a backlash, heightening the sense of cultural identity among the minority.
Limited attention and selective memory are key behavioral factors identified in the literature on cognitive biases and economic outcomes. We investigate how events trigger selective recall and thus change economic behavior. Following public disagreement between German and Greek politicians, Greek consumers drastically reduced their purchases of German automobiles – especially in areas affected by German reprisals during World War II. In response to contemporary political disagreements, Greeks living in areas where German troops committed massacres curtailed their purchases of German cars to a greater extent than those elsewhere. Current events can reactivate past memories, having a first-order effect on purchasing behavior.
We examine the historical determinants of differences in preferences for work across societies today. Our hypothesis is that a society’s work ethic depends on the role that labor has played in it historically, as an input in agricultural production: societies that have for centuries depended on the cultivation of crops with high returns to labor effort will work longer hours and develop a preference for working hard. We formalize this prediction in the context of a model of endogenous preference formation, with altruistic parents that can invest in reducing their offsprings’ disutility from work. To empirically found our model, we construct an index of potential agricultural labor intensity, that captures the suitability of a location for the cultivation of crops with high estimated returns to labor in their production. We find that this index positively predicts work hours and attitudes towards work in contemporary European regions. We find support for the hypothesis of cultural transmission, by examining the correlation between potential labor intensity in the parents’ country of origin and hours worked by children of European immigrants in the US.
I study the effect of taste-based discrimination on the assimilation decisions of immigrant minorities. Do discriminated minority groups increase their assimilation efforts in order to avoid discrimination and public harassment or do they become alienated and retreat in their own communities? I exploit an exogenous shock to native attitudes, anti-Germanism in the United States during World War I, to empirically identify the reactions of German immigrants to increased native hostility. I use two measures of assimilation efforts: naming patterns and petitions for naturalization. In the face of increased discrimination, Germans increase their assimilation investments by Americanizing their own and their children’s names and filing more petitions for US citizenship. Heterogeneity results suggest that these responses are stronger for immigrants who are initially more invested in the host society.
We examine how analogous thinking about family history affects outgroup bias. We provide evidence from Greece, a country that serves as an entry port to Europe for a large number of refugees, and whose native population partly consists of descendants of ethnic Greeks that were forcibly relocated from Turkey in the early 20th century. Combining historical and survey data with an experimental manipulation, we show that mentioning the parallels between past and present forced displacement leads to substantial increases in monetary donations and attitudinal measures of sympathy for refugees among respondents with forcibly displaced ancestors. This effect is also found among Greeks without a family history of forced migration, but only in places with a large historical concentration of Greek refugees from Turkey, where this historical experience is salient. Overall, our findings suggest that harnessing past experience can be an effective way of increasing empathy and reducing outgroup discrimination.
How does the appearance of a new out-group affect the economic, social, and cultural integration of previous outsiders? We study this question in the context of the first Great Migration (1915-1930), when 1.5 million African Americans moved from the US South to urban centers in the North, where 30 million Europeans had arrived since 1850. We test the hypothesis that black inflows led to the establishment of a binary black-white racial classification, and facilitated the incorporation of – previously racially ambiguous – European immigrants into the white majority. We exploit variation induced by the interaction between 1900 settlements of southern-born blacks in northern cities and state-level outmigration from the US South after 1910. Black arrivals increased both the effort exerted by immigrants and their eventual Americanization. These average effects mask substantial heterogeneity: while initially less integrated groups (i.e. Southern and Eastern Europeans) exerted more effort, assimilation success was larger for those that were culturally closer to native whites (i.e. Western and Northern Europeans). These patterns are consistent with a framework in which perceptions of racial threat among native whites lower the barriers to the assimilation of white immigrants.
Work in Progress
Secular Policies and Muslim Integration in the West: The Effects of the French Headscarf Ban (with Aala Abdelgadir)
In the last two decades, rising immigration flows, and the fear of terrorism and Islamic radicalization have heightened a sense of cultural threat among native populations in the US and Europe. Motivated by these concerns, a number of countries have enacted policies to restrict religious expression and emphasize secularism and western values. Despite intense public debate around such policies, there is practically no systematic evidence on how they influence the behavior and choices of religious minorities affected by them. In this paper, we quantitatively evaluate the effects of the 2004 French law regulating the use of the Islamic dress in schools on the socioeconomic integration of French Muslim women. Using a variety of data sources and a difference in differences design that combines cohort- and individual-level variation over time, we find that the legislation reduces educational attainment, and affects a number of labor market and family outcomes of Muslim women in the long run. We provide direct evidence that the ban operates by increasing dropout rates and negatively impacting performance during high school, as well as evidence that it increases perceptions of discrimination and impacts national and group identity.
The effect of absolute and relative group size on immigrant integration (with Kai Gehring and Marco Tabellini)
We examine the hypothesis that the relative or absolute group size of migrant enclaves affects their integration in the host country. Using historical US census data from 1880 to 1930, we examine various economic and social proxies of integration ranging from labor market outcomes, to inter-group marriage, name choices for children, and volunteering for the military. We exploit county-group-year level variation, and rely on a shift-share instrument and push factors like climatic shocks and quotas for identification. We augment our county level analysis with newly digitized disaggregated data for selected counties, which allow us to also investigate the role of spatial segregation for immigrant integration.