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Development Discussion Paper
Nation-Building Through Compulsory Schooling During the Age of Mass Migration
Oriana Bandiera, Myra Mohnen, Imran Rasul and Martina Viarengo April 2015
Paper No' EOPP 057:
Full Paper (pdf)

JEL Classification: D02; F22; I28; O15; P16

By the mid-19th century, America was the best educated nation on Earth: significant financial investments in education were being undertaken and the majority of children voluntarily attended public schools. So why did US states start introducing compulsory schooling laws at this point in time? We provide qualitative and quantitative evidence that compulsory schooling laws were used as a nation-building tool to homogenize the civic values held by the tens of millions of culturally diverse migrants who moved to America during the ‘Age of Mass Migration’. Our central finding is that the adoption of compulsory schooling by American-born median voters occurs significantly earlier in time in states that host many migrants who had lower exposure to civic values in their home countries and had lower demand for common schooling when in the US. By providing micro-foundations for such laws, our study highlights an important link between mass migration and institutional change, where changes are driven by the policy choices of native median-voters in the receiving country rather than migrant settlers themselves