Education, Identity, and Community
Lessons from Jewish Emancipation
Originally published in Public Choice
Why do some minority communities take up opportunities for education while others reject them? To shed light on this, we study the impact of Jewish Emancipation in nineteenth century Europe on patterns of education. In Germany, non-religious and Reform Jews dramatically increased their rates of education. In the less developed parts of Eastern Europe, Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox communities imposed unprecedented restrictions on secular education and isolated themselves from society. Explaining this bifurcation requires a model of education that is different from the standard human capital approach. In our model, education not only confers economic benefits but also transmits values that undermine the cultural identity of minority groups. We show that it is individually rational for agents who benefit least from rising returns to education to respond by reducing their investment in education. Group-level sanctions for high levels of education piggyback upon this effect and amplify it.