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.

A conversation with Cass Sunstein

Last year I got to interview one of my intellectual heroes, Cass Sunstein, for The Conversation’s Speaking With podcast. We covered quite a lot of ground on nudges and “sludges” – how governments, businesses and other organisations can influence our decisions through design.

You can read more at The Conversation, also his book with Richard Thaler is great.

Inconsistent scapegoating

The people who have always been able to do something about this — the ones building the software — have always known when their software was doing something wrong. It’s their job to find bugs, and if they’re worth their salt, they’re always looking for flaws in the overall design, as well as the functional components of what they’re building. They know that violating user privacy without consent is a bug. Operating in a way inconsistent with the user’s expectations is a bug. Coercing people into using your product with psychological tricks is a bug.

Though many of these poor designs are instigated by higher-ups, they are ultimately implemented by professionals with a deep knowledge of their field. Designers know when they’re mocking up screens that prey on people’s most basic desires; developers know when they’re implementing designs that would feel incredibly wrong as the end user.

This is from an old article by Matt Baer, and is talking about problematic business models in general on the internet.

It isn’t about Facebook or any specific scandal.

Still, it’s an interesting thought. It isn’t just Zuckerberg or Kalanick or [pick your leader of scandal generating tech company].

The people that write the code and design the interfaces know what they’re doing. Perhaps we should hold them as morally responsible as we do financiers?

(As always my emphasis)


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