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.