Working Papers

Coercive Assimilation Policy and Ethnic Identification Across Generations: Evidence from American Indian Boarding Schools (Paper)

Presentations: CEPR Economic History Annual Symposium (2024, scheduled)

Abstract Culture and identity have fundamental economic, social, and political implications. Throughout history, governments, colonial powers, and other state actors have sought to reshape these characteristics through assimilation policies and indoctrination efforts, often targeting ethnic minorities. In this paper, I show that coercive assimilation policy can cause substantial cultural change among ethnic minorities, but that these effects do not necessarily persist into later generations, and may even reverse. I focus on a historical policy in the United States under which authorities removed Native American children to distant boarding schools. I exploit the staggered recruitment patterns of schools and variation in cohort exposure to facilitate causal identification. I show that exposure to boarding schools offered few economic benefits, but did lead to substantial cultural and social assimilation. Treated cohorts were more likely to speak English, more likely to give their children western names, and more likely to be perceived as `White’ in their communities. However, I find that these effects reversed in the next generation. I show that stronger ethnic identification, associated with exposure to boarding schools and transmitted across generations, is a plausible channel for these effects. Ultimately, the schools seem to have strengthened the identities they sought to erase.

Work in Progress

Can Property Rights Foster Individualism? (with Carla Srebot)
Abstract Individualism has been shown to have important economic, social and political consequences. This project examines whether individualism can be fostered by government policy, the degree to which it persists across generations, and its long-run implications for local economic development. We study these questions in the context of an ambitious land allotment programme targeting Native Americans in the early-20th century, using a range of historical and contemporary data sources. At the individual-level, we examine the effects of allotment on naming practices, intermarriage, participation in Native American civil rights associations, and location choice among descendants up to 100 years later. In order to document the long-term political and social consequences of allotment at the reservation-level, we construct new datasets on public goods provision, the occurence of and issues raised in local public meetings, and the content of modern tribal constitutions.