The long term effects of Indian residential schools on human and social capital
Authors: Donna Feir
For decades, indigenous children were forcibly removed from their homes and placed in boarding schools. These sorts of policies were instituted in numerous countries throughout the world, including the United States, Canada, and Australia, and have been described as a potential source of the economic and social hardships facing indigenous peoples today. The policies often had the stated goal of cultural assimilation and are generally perceived to have been an educational failure. However, up to this point, there have been no causal studies of their long-run effects. I identify the causal effects of boarding school attendance on both human and cultural capital outcomes using historic variation in the commitment of the Catholic Church to the residential school system. Attendance at one of these boarding schools increases the probability of high school graduation and employment while decreasing the likelihood of receiving government transfers. These effects are large: for example, the likelihood of employment increases by as much as 17 percent. On the other hand, the likelihood of participating in traditional activities and speaking an Aboriginal language at home decreases, while the likelihood of living on a reservation drops. These results suggest that the role of these kinds of policies in the current economic state of indigenous communities is more nuanced than generally thought: although boarding schools eroded traditional cultural connections, possibly making institutional formation diffcult, their negative economic impact may have been mitigated through their role in human capital creation.
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