Discrimination in Universal Social Programs? A Nationwide Field Experiment on Access to Child Care

Although explicit discrimination in access to social programs is typically prohibited, more subtle forms of discrimination prior to the formal application process may still exist. Unveiling this phenomenon, we provide the first causal evidence of discrimination against migrants seeking child care. We send emails from fictitious parents to > 18, 000 early child care centers across Germany, inquiring about slot availability and application procedures. Randomly varying names to signal migration background, we find that migrants receive 4.4 percentage points fewer responses. Replies to migrants contain fewer slot offers, provide less helpful content, and are less encouraging. Exploring mechanisms using three additional treatments, we show that discrimination is stronger against migrant boys. This finding suggests that anticipated higher effort required for migrants partly drives discrimination, which is also supported by additional survey and administrative data. Our results highlight that difficult-to-detect discrimination in the pre-application phase could hinder migrants’ access to universal social programs.

29. May 2023

Authors Henning Hermes Philipp Lergetporer Fabian Mierisch Frauke Peter Simon Wiederhold

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