“Caught between Cultures? Unintended Consequences of Improving Opportunity for Immigrant Girls”

forthcoming in Review of Economic Studies (with G. Dahl, P. Frijters and H. 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? Building on
Akerlof and Kranton's identity framework (2000), we construct a simple game-theoretic model
which shows how expanding opportunities for immigrant girls can have the unintended
consequence of reducing their well-being, since identity-concerned parents will constrain their
daughter's choices. The model can explain the otherwise puzzling findings from 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 that birthright citizenship lowers
measures of life satisfaction and self-esteem for immigrant girls. This is especially true for
Muslims, where traditional cultural identity is particularly salient. 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.
Consistent with the model, immigrant Muslim parents invest less in their daughters' schooling
and have a lower probability of speaking German with their daughters if they are born after the
reform. We further find that immigrant Muslim girls granted birthright citizenship are less likely
to self-identify as German, are more socially isolated, and are less likely to believe foreigners can
have a good life in Germany. 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.
Alternative models can explain some of the findings in isolation, but are not consistent more
generally.