Introducing the European Social Inclusion Initiative

Early childhood activities at a nursery school in Courcouronnes, France. Photo: Marjolaine Roland Courcouronnes

A child who grows up in a low-income family is less likely to thrive in school, be in good health, and earn a decent income as an adult. In Europe, this is especially true of children with a migrant background, who are more than twice as likely to grow up in poverty as children with native-born parents. The economic and social isolation these individuals face is often called “social exclusion.”

Social exclusion is not a small-scale issue occurring at the margins of European society. Over 118 million people, or about 24 percent of the population, live at risk of poverty in Europe. For migrants, the risk of poverty can be as high as 51 percent, depending on their country of origin. Many programs and policies across the continent aim to tackle exclusion- and poverty-related issues, but there is little evidence of which approaches work and which do not.

To better understand this knowledge gap, we conducted a systemic literature review of more than 2,100 experimental and quasi-experimental studies focusing on social inclusion. Our review focused on three key potential levers for social inclusion in the European context:

  1. Education
  2. Skills for youth
  3. Migrant inclusion

Taking stock of the current evidence—and evidence gaps—in these three areas provides an important starting point for more targeted social inclusion approaches in Europe. This post presents some of our key findings and introduces J-PAL’s European Social Inclusion Initiative (ESII)—our newly launched research and policy initiative that aims to generate evidence to help address issues of social exclusion in Europe.

1. Education for social inclusion

Understanding the many factors that lead to a disadvantaged child’s educational success is a challenging task. We identified six key areas of research speaking to the question: early childhood interventions, home environment and parental support, motivation, peer effects, crime, and school systems and education supply.

In early childhood education, many studies point to the importance of early investments for obtaining long term results, particularly for disadvantaged children. Yet, while many of these studies have been conducted in the US or in developing countries, in Europe—where early childcare and schooling are widespread—there is still little we know. For example, under what conditions may access to early pre-school programs be more beneficial than providing childcare either through centers or at home?

Other promising education interventions include providing conditional cash transfers tied to attendance or achievement or encouraging parents from lower socioeconomic backgrounds to participate more actively in their children’s education. Some of this evidence has been incorporated into policy decisions, such as an intervention on parental involvement in France, which is now offered by the French Ministry of Education to all public schools in the country on a voluntary basis.

However, new questions constantly emerge, and some old questions are still unanswered. For example, important knowledge gaps persist regarding the role of peers in the classroom, the role of a child’s home environment, and the right type of, and exposure to, schooling for students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

2. Building skills to help youth transition from school to work

It is widely understood that youth need a solid foundation of skills to successfully transition from school to the workforce. Yet, we lack evidence on the types of programs that effectively build such skills.

Schools can play an important role in this transition by providing students with professional skills that employers seek, offering them information about employer requirements, and encouraging them to gain valuable work experience.

But traditional school-based approaches are not the only way to help youth transition into the labor market. With more than 12 percent of young men and almost 9 percent of young women leaving school early in Europe, there is also a need for extracurricular programs that can provide young people with a second chance. Such programs, like the Job Corps, have shown encouraging results in the US but have not yet been tested in the European context.

3. Inclusion for migrants

Existing evidence suggests that programs tailored to migrants’ needs better promote their inclusion in society. However, many interventions that reach migrants do not target them directly, making it difficult to understand how such programs specifically affect migrant communities.

Active labor market policies offer one promising approach. These policies, which often include training or job-search assistance, have generated larger employment and wage gains for migrants.

Yet more research is needed on the topic of migrant inclusion in order to equip European policymakers with the tools and information they need to respond to this important policy issue. There remain important gaps in our understanding of how to help migrants enter and remain in the labor force, to fight discrimination, and to provide targeted access to information about social assistance and transfer programs to increase take-up.

Introducing the European Social Inclusion Initiative

To respond to the knowledge gaps highlighted in our review, J-PAL Europe is launching the European Social Inclusion Initiative (ESII). ESII is a multi-year initiative that aims to generate new evidence by funding new research and sharing emerging lessons for programs and policies seeking to foster the social inclusion of marginalized populations. In its first year, ESII will focus on education programs aimed at improving the inclusion of first- and second-generation migrants and refugees in Europe.

To this end, we are seeking to engage a wide range of policymakers and practitioners across Europe—such as governments, NGOs, multilateral organizations, and businesses—who are interested in measuring the impact of their programs through rigorous impact evaluation. In addition to funding randomized evaluations, ESII will help implementing organizations build greater capacity for evidence-based policymaking and disseminate emerging policy insights on social inclusion in Europe.

To learn more about these findings or the initiative, read the review paper and visit the ESII page.

To express your interest in getting involved in the initiative through participating in trainings, policy events, or as an evaluation partner, please refer to our request for Letters of Interest.

Posted by Luc Behaghel, Chercheur affilié, Marc Gurgand, Scientific Director, J-PAL Europe, Anna Schrimpf, Executive Director, J-PAL Europe, and Ana Maria Tabacaru, Senior Policy Associate, J-PAL Europe