Yet another benefit from educating girls

In many households, the oldest sister is one of the first family members to acquire any schooling, making her an important source of help with studies at home. Surveys show that only one out of five children who receive help with studies from a family member get it from a parent. When parents are not the ones helping with studies, the oldest sister fulfils that role 70% of the time. Given the low education of parents, and the oldest sister’s role as a childcare provider and tutor, one might expect oldest sister’s schooling to meaningfully impact younger sibling learning and development.

This is from research into the benefits of educated older sisters in Pakistan. Specifically in rural areas, where three quarters of mothers and two fifths of fathers were uneducated.

Javaeria Qureshi from the University of Illinois found that having an educated older sister increased a primary-aged brother’s years of schooling, ability to read and write, and add and count.

These oldest sisters’ schooling effects are the same order of magnitude as those for maternal schooling. Interestingly, increasing the oldest sister’s schooling has no impact on older brothers’ educational outcomes, indicating that the younger brothers are not benefitting merely from being around more educated family members or because their parents are increasing investments in all of their children’s education. Instead, the results suggest that younger brothers’ education improves because they have a more educated childcare provider, tutor and role model in their oldest sister. 

This is an important finding not only due to the number of children not being educated in Pakistan, but the gendered nature of education in many countries.

Women are often presumed to have a lower return on education due to a lesser propensity to work and support parents later etc. This can be especially important in resource constrained families even if there isn’t a prejudice against educating girls.

But as is so common, there’s stuff we haven’t or couldn’t measure, the world is complicated and factors interrelated. Beyond the individual benefit of educating a girl, it appears to be positive sum for the family.

As always my emphasis.

Banning German doesn’t help either

As a coda to the last post about banning headscarves, Vasiliki Fouka has another working paper looking at the impact of US schools banning German as a language of instruction after World War One:

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...

Apparently it went further than this, with some states even banning the use of German over the telephone and some language that wouldn’t look too out of place in some contemporary discourse:

A 1915 pamphlet of the American Defense League, one of the largest nationalist political groups of the time, reads as follows: “Any language which produces a people of ruthless conquistadores [sic] such as now exists in Germany, is not fit to teach clean and pure American boys and girls.”

But the main thing is, the heightening of minority identity is similar, despite it being a completely different country and affected group:

In line with the model, the backlash is greater in counties with a smaller share of German population. This is consistent with a cultural transmission mechanism in which parental and peer socialization are substitutes: In places where Germans constitute a smaller minority, parents try harder to shape each child’s sense of ethnicity because they cannot reasonably expect that children will be socialized in their ethnic culture through peer interaction alone… The extent of the backlash was higher also in counties with a greater share of Lutherans.. The implication is that communities with a greater initial sense of ethnic identity reacted more adversely to assimilation policies… The number of pupils enrolled in Sunday schools increased post-war in states that experienced a German language ban. No corresponding increase was observed in other activities of the church, such as number of schools or services held in German. This suggests that the backlash was driven by increased demand of parents for German enculturation, and not by increased supply of ethnic indoctrination by the church.

As always my emphasis.

What happens when you ban headscarves?

We find that the law reduces the secondary educational attainment of Muslim girls, and impacts their trajectory in the labor market and family composition in the long run. We provide evidence that the ban operates through increased perceptions of discrimination and that it reduces assimilation by casting religion and national identities as incompatible.

This is from a recent working paper looking at a 2004 French law that banned “religious signs” in primary and secondary schools. It affected many religions, but was essentially a de facto ban on Muslim girls wearing headscarves in school.

These bans are purportedly to encourage assimilation and a homogenisation of values. But study authors Aala Abdelgadir and Vasiliki Fouka find that it can actually intensify a minority sense of identity.

Which makes sense. I’m struggling to think of a ban on anything that actually changed minds. Some part of the population will follow the decree because they believe in it already. Others will stomach it. And the rest will contravene and reap the consequences/rewards.

In cases like murder, the benefits of a ban outweigh the consequences for the individual. For some drugs, the tide seems to be shifting in the other direction.

But do the benefits of forced cultural homogenisation really outweigh the consequences for these women and their families? Especially given they could rebound for generations?

We measure educational and socioeconomic outcomes of French-born women with parents from Muslim-majority countries who were just old enough to have been at school when the law was enacted, and compare them to older cohorts who did not experience the ban, and to a variety of control groups, including non-Muslim immigrants and Muslim men.

Our first finding is that exposure to the ban significantly reduces the likelihood of completing secondary education. Part of this effect appears to be driven by a negative impact on enrollment rates in secondary school for Muslim women aged 16 and above… We also find that Muslim women affected by the ban took longer to complete secondary education, conditional on their pre-existing age-educational profiles. These higher dropout rates and longer completion times indicate that the ban disrupted the educational progress of Muslim girls. This negative educational shock carries over to a number of longer term outcomes, such as labor force participation, employment rates, and fertility patterns.

These women and families were wearing scarves for a legitimate reason to them. That a top-down approach is destined to fail is driven home by the mechanism by which this all occurred:

We show that these longer run effects of the ban work through two hypothesized pathways: a discrimination channel, and an identity channel. First, women affected by the ban report increased perceptions of discrimination at school and a lower trust in the French school system… Second.. Muslim women were forced to choose between a secular French identity and attachment to their religious practices, a conflict that often led to alienation from the French society. In the data, Muslim women affected by the ban increase their identification with the nationality of their father relatively more than their identification with France.

As always my emphasis.

Let’s stop poisoning ourselves

A horrifying working paper looks at the impact of traffic pollution on students in schools downwind of a major US highway:

We find that attending school where prevailing winds place it downwind of a nearby highway more than 60% of the time is associated with 0.040 of a standard deviation lower test scores, a 4.1 percentage point increase in behavioral incidents, and a 0.5 percentage point increase in the rate of absences over the school year, compared to attending a school upwind of a highway the same distance away

6.4 million American children attend a school within 250m of a highway, according to the researchers.

Children may be particularly susceptible to the carbon monoxide etc. that comes out of exhaust pipes, but really any of us who work or live near traffic should be worried.

If climate change is too abstract, far away or big for us to tackle, this shouldn’t be. The cost-benefit of transport (for starters) is clear and present. At the very least we all need to drive less.

And we’re not just talking about immediate impacts – think of how some of these issues (lower test scores, poor behaviour etc.) compound, as people get labelled troublesome or miss opportunities.

Air pollution, in other words, feeds inequality.

Other papers cited in this study illustrate the breadth of the issue:

…Currie and colleagues found that high levels of carbon monoxide were associated with reduced school attendance… Ransom and Pope (1992) similarly found a relationship between pollution and school attendance, with more small particulate matter in the air associated with more absences… Chang et al. (2016a, 2016b) use hourly variation to show that increased exposure to fine particulate matter decreases productivity per hour of pear packers and call center workers, while Archsmith, Heyes, and Saberian (2018) showed that baseball umpires make more mistakes on days with higher pollution…Herrnstadt and Muehlegger (2015) argue that traffic pollution influences impulse control. They showed that short-term hourly variation in wind direction in Chicago lead to higher crime in areas downwind of highways than on the opposite upwind side…

Also, as an addendum to my last post about randomness and test scores:

Marcotte (2017) used the variation in air quality on different testing days and found that children who took tests on worse days for pollen and fine airborne particulate matter had worse outcomes.

As usual my emphasis.

Working with diverse teams

The notion that diverse teams come up with more creative solutions (or at least ones that better reflect a diverse audience/customer base) seems to be pretty widespread. But how does it work in practice?

Some interesting research out of America suggests that “political correctness” may be necessary to make it work:

Our research shows that men and women both experience uncertainty when asked to generate ideas as members of a mixed-sex work group: men because they may fear offending the women in the group and women because they may fear having their ideas devalued or rejected. Most group creativity research begins with the assumption that creativity is unleashed by removing normative constraints, but our results show that the PC norm promotes rather than suppresses the free expression of ideas by reducing the uncertainty experienced by both sexes in mixed-sex work groups and signaling that the group is predictable enough to risk sharing more—and more-novel—ideas.

The researchers did a couple of interesting experiments, priming students with politically correct norms. There appears to be a negative affect in homogeneous groups, but in mixed groups it produced a marked increase in “creativity”.

What I appreciate about this research is the light touch. It fits with the view of political correctness as a form of decency. Like any notion of decency (swearing for instance), there can be social sanction, but the limitations also breed their own form of freedom.

We know how to act, and, more importantly, how not to. If you care about not making others uncomfortable then the restriction can be freeing.


(My emphasis)