How Do Family History and Parental Narratives Affect Discrimination between Children?

By Kai Barron, Heike Harmgart, Steffen Huck, Sebastian O. Schneider, and Matthias Sutter

Since the outbreak of the Syrian Civil War in 2011 over 650,000 Syrian refugees have sought shelter in Jordan and registered with UNHCR, with children making up around half of the Syrian refugee population. The resulting sudden increase in the population size of around 10% has put enormous strain on all public services in Jordan’s resource-poor economy. In particular, the provision of education to a cohort of children that was suddenly much larger than previous cohorts presented a challenge to the Jordanian government. The complexity of the challenge was increased by the fact that initially it was unclear how long the Syrians would remain in Jordan, implying that the increase in population might have been temporary. The Jordanian government’s solution included the establishment of so-called double-shift schools that effectively operate as two schools under one roof – one in the morning for Jordanians, one in the afternoon for Syrians. 

With the war having dragged on, 2019 was the ninth year of the conflict and most Syrian refugees in Jordan no longer had plans to return to Syria. The majority appear likely to stay for decades to come – just as previous refugees from Iraq and, above all, Palestine did. Their successful integration into Jordanian society has thus become a matter of central importance for the country’s stability in a fragile region.

In this recent study, BCCP Senior Fellow Steffen Huck, BCCP Fellow Kai Barron, and their co-authors Heike Harmgart, Sebastian O. Schneider, and Matthias Sutter investigate the factors influencing the formation of discriminatory preferences between Syrian and Jordanian children who, in all likelihood, will have to live together in Jordan for the long run.  Using an experimental study with 456 children, aged 9 and 10, in 13 double-shift schools, the authors show that the level of out-group discrimination of both populations (Jordanian host and Syrian refugee children) is very low, while overall levels of generosity are high. Both findings contrast sharply with similar experiments in Western settings. However, there are several intriguing details. First, amongst the Jordanian children, those with Palestinian (that is, refugee) roots do not discriminate at all between Jordanians and Syrians.

Second, the study suggests that there is a tight link between parents’ narratives and children’s discriminatory behavior, particularly for the Syrian (refugee) children. This suggests that discriminatory preferences are being transmitted through repeated narratives at home. For example, if Syrian parents think that Jordanians should do everything that they can to help Syrian refugees in this humanitarian crisis, their children show significantly more discrimination against Jordanian host country children.

Overall, the results from this study provide a promising picture for the integration of young Syrian refugees into Jordanian society.

The full paper “Discrimination, Narratives and Family History: An Experiment with Jordanian Host and Syrian Refugee Children” is forthcoming in the Review of Economics and Statistics.

This text is jointly published by BCCP News and BSE Insights.