Why did America make education compulsory in the nineteenth century when enrolment in schools was high? New research by Oriana Bandiera, Myra Mohnen, Imran Rasul and Martina Viarengo suggests that it was not meant for the average American but for the millions of arriving migrants, mostly from Europe. Compulsory schooling was a tool for nation-building to assimilate millions of culturally diverse migrants into American civic society.
Their study, which is published in the January 2019 issue of The Economic Journal, shows that laws making school compulsory were more likely to be introduced in US states that experienced a larger influx of migrants from countries deemed less likely to share their civic values.
According to the research, exposure to compulsory schooling in a migrant’s origin country is the strongest predictor. Whereas differing religion, literacy rates or English-speaking ability are far less effective at explaining why states adopted their education policies at different times.
This highlights a way to include migrants within a civic community as the absence of compulsory schooling could have exacerbated political exclusion. The results are supported by other studies that find that those who had compulsory education were more likely to be registered to vote and engage in political discussions. They also had higher rates of participation in the community and trust in government.
The authors suggest that their findings raise questions about whether returning Europeans drove legal and institutional changes in their home countries. They conclude that this identifies a new way to consider the impact of national origins of migrants on policy outcomes in the long run. This could also have an impact on state-level tax variations that fund schools and other public services.
‘Nation-Building Through Compulsory Schooling During the Age of Mass Migration‘ by Oriana Bandiera, Myra Mohnen, Imran Rasul and Martina Viarengo is published in the January 2019 issue of The Economic Journal.
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