to my PhD student Vicky Fouka, who will be joining the Stanford Political Science Department in the coming fall (and because the polisci market closes earlier, she had to turn down her Boston interviews, including at several top-5 departments). Her job market paper is called "Backlash: The Unintended Effects of Language Prohibition in US Schools after World War I"; I think it will become an instant classic in cultural economics. Here is the abstract:
Can forced assimilation policies successfully integrate immigrant groups? As cross-border migration surges, more countries must grapple with this question. A rich theoretical literature argues that forced integration can either succeed or create a powerful backlash, heightening the sense of cultural identity among the minority. This paper examines how a specific integration policy — namely language restrictions in elementary school — affects integration and identification with the host country later in life. I focus on the case of Germans in the United States during and after World War I. In the period 1917–1923, several US states barred foreign languages from their schools, often targeting German explicitly. Yet rather than facilitating the assimilation of immigrant children, that policy instigated a backlash. In particular, individuals who had two German parents and were affected by these language laws were less likely to volunteer in WWII; they were also more likely to marry within their ethnic group and to choose decidedly German names for their offspring. These observed effects were greater in locations where the initial sense of German identity, as proxied by Lutheran church influence, was stronger. These findings are compatible with a model of cultural transmission of identity, in which parental investment overcompensates for the direct effects of assimilation policies.