Gordon Dahl, UCSD

Caught between Cultures: Unintended Consequences of Improving Opportunity for Immigrant Girls

with Christina Felfe, Paul Frijters and Helmut Rainer


What happens when immigrant girls are given increased opportunities to integrate into the workplace and society, but their parents value more traditional cultural outcomes? We answer this question in the context of a reform which granted automatic birthright citizenship to eligible immigrant children born in Germany after January 1, 2000. Using survey data we collected in 57 schools in Germany and comparing those born in the months before versus after the reform, we find the introduction of birthright citizenship lowers measures of life satisfaction and self-esteem for immigrant girls by .32 and .25 standard deviations, respectively. This is especially true for Muslims, where traditional parents are likely to prefer different cultural outcomes than their daughters. Exploring mechanisms, we find that immigrant Muslim parents invest less in their daughters' schooling and that these daughters receive worse grades in school if they are born after the reform. Consistent with a rise in interfamily conflict, birthright citizenship results in disillusionment where immigrant Muslim girls believe their chances of achieving their educational goals are lower and the perceived odds of having to forgo a career for family rise. Moreover, we find that immigrant Muslim girls granted birthright citizenship are more socially isolated and less likely to self-identify as German. In contrast, immigrant boys experience, if anything, an improvement in well-being and little effect on other outcomes. Taken together, the findings point towards immigrant girls being pushed by parents to conform to a role within traditional culture, whereas boys are allowed to take advantage of the opportunities that come with citizenship. To explain these findings, we construct a simple game-theoretic model which builds on Akerlof and Kranton (2000), where identity-concerned parents constrain their daughter's choices, and hence lower their daughter's well-being, when faced with the threat of integration. Alternative models can explain some of the findings in isolation.

Attend through this Webex link

Please sign up for our seminars listserv to receive the Webinar password.