Bilingual Instruction and Political Discrimination of Ethnic Outgroups: Evidence from a Natural Experiment in Malaysia

26 April 2022, Version 1
This content is an early or alternative research output and has not been peer-reviewed at the time of posting.


Why do some individuals discriminate against ethnic outgroups more than others in the political space? This article argues that variation in political prejudice against ethnic outgroups may be explained by a person’s language training in school. Specifically, individuals who received bilingual instruction should display less political discrimination against outgroup members than those who received monolingual instruction. By promoting the acquisition of a second language, bilingual education facilitates the cognitive development of perspective-taking ability, which in turn should foster more inclusive political attitudes. I find support for this argument through an investigation of an education reform in Malaysia, where affected Malay students experienced a mixture of English and mother tongue instruction while the rest were taught only in their native language. The evidence also points to the possibility of bilingual education as a compensatory avenue to narrow the perspective-taking ability gap between those who were raised in monolingual and bilingual families.


Ethnic politics
Political socialization
Education policy
Language and bilingualism

Supplementary materials

Supplementary Information
Includes a detailed description of the case study, survey design and variable measurements, additional empirical tests and results


Comments are not moderated before they are posted, but they can be removed by the site moderators if they are found to be in contravention of our Commenting Policy [opens in a new tab] - please read this policy before you post. Comments should be used for scholarly discussion of the content in question. You can find more information about how to use the commenting feature here [opens in a new tab] .
This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy [opens in a new tab] and Terms of Service [opens in a new tab] apply.