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Backlash against affirmative action: Evidence from the South Tyrolean package

Alessandro Belmonte () and Armando Di Lillo

European Economic Review, 2021, vol. 137, issue C

Abstract: We examine whether affirmative action produces backlash effects for the most privileged ethnic group by exploiting a unique historical setting originating from a forced assimilation program, the Italianization of South Tyrol. The program, implemented by the fascist regime, imposed entry barriers for non-Italian speakers in the public administration sector of the labor market. The specialization of Italians persisted until hard quotas were announced in 1966. We document that the announcement induced a marked increase in the support for a nationalist and openly anti-German party in municipalities where such specialization was more pronounced. A text analysis of the speeches of 196 members of the Italian parliament (MPs) recorded in 3,820 verbatim reports further shows that, during the announcement period, MPs of the nationalist party reinforced Germans’ negative traits that characterized the historical tensions between the two groups (“Nazis” or “terrorists”). Our results suggest that the expectation of affirmative action can rapidly activate the salience of ethnic boundaries and, in turn, promote ethnic hatred.

Keywords: Affirmative action; Inter-Ethnic Hostility; Voting; Salience; Ethno-occupational specialization; South Tyrol (search for similar items in EconPapers)
JEL-codes: D74 J45 J48 J71 Z13 (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2021
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DOI: 10.1016/j.euroecorev.2021.103802

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European Economic Review is currently edited by T.S. Eicher, A. Imrohoroglu, E. Leeper, J. Oechssler and M. Pesendorfer

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