The Effect of Refugees on Native Adolescents’ Test Scores: Quasi-Experimental Evidence from PISA

Semih Tumen

Economic Research Forum, Working Paper No. 1356, October 2019


The recent literature has shown that: refugees in Turkey have, on average, lower skill levels than natives; since they do not have easy access to work permits, they tend to find manual jobs in the informal sector, displacing natives in these jobs; and refugees employed in manual tasks are complementary to formal native workers employed in more complex tasks. The author explores whether these labor market dynamics have any effect on human capital investment decisions and educational outcomes of natives (in a separate paper he shows that increased competition for low skilled jobs increased high school enrollment rates, especially for males with lower parental education). This paper investigates the impact of Syrian refugees on the school performance of adolescent children in Turkey. The analysis is based on the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) microdata for 2009 and 2012 (pre-influx) and 2015 (post-influx), and employs a difference-in-difference approach based on province-year variation in refugee intensity and an instrumental variable approach to address the potential endogeneity of refugees’ location choices.

Key findings:

  • Math, Science, and Reading scores of Turkish native adolescents have notably increased following the Syrian refugee influx, conditional on parental education, which is used as a proxy for unobserved ability.
  • The increase in PISA scores is more pronounced for males than females.
  • The increase in test scores mostly comes from the lower half of the test score distribution.

The author argues that the labor market forces that emerged in the aftermath of the Syrian refugee crisis have led native adolescents, who would normally perform worse in school, to take their high school education more seriously, i.e. the increase in refugee concentration generates pressures in the low-skill labor market and those pressures provide incentives for increased school achievement.

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