Becoming White: How Mass Warfare Turned Immigrants into Americans
34 Pages Posted: 5 Dec 2017 Last revised: 4 Mar 2021
Date Written: December 4, 2017
How do groups on the social periphery assimilate into the social core of a nation? I develop a theory of cultural assimilation that highlights the way in which mass mobilization around warfare can reduce ethnic stratifications by incorporating low-status ethnic groups into the dominant national culture. To test the theory, I focus on the case of World War I in the United States -- a period that closely followed a massive wave of immigration into the United States. Using an instrumental variables strategy exploiting the combination of the exogenous timing of the war and features of the draft system, I show that individuals of foreign, European nativity -- especially, the Italians and Eastern Europeans -- were more likely to assimilate into American society. I also provide evidence of backlash against Germans despite their service for the United States in World War I. The theory and results contribute to our understanding of the ways in which states make identity and the prospects for immigrant assimilation in an age without mass warfare.
Keywords: assimilation, identity, warfare, intergroup relations
JEL Classification: N00, Z10
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation