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Language Skill Complementarity: Returns to Immigrant Language Acquisition

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  • Eli Berman
  • Kevin Lang
  • Erez Siniver

Abstract

We examine the effect of language acquisition on the growth of immigrants’ earnings. We gathered data on recent Soviet immigrants to Israel that include retrospective questions on earnings and language ability on entry into their current job. Language acquisition is found to interact positively with occupation level. Immigrant programmers and computer technicians have a return to tenure about three percentage points higher than that of natives; improved Hebrew language skills account for between 2/3 and 3/4 of that differential wage growth. In contrast, construction workers and gas station attendants have no convergence of wages to those of natives and language acquisition has no discernible effect on their wages. For these less skilled workers the estimated "return" to Hebrew proficiency in the cross-section is entirely due to ability bias. This finding may invite a reinterpretation of other studies on the returns to language acquisition for low wage immigrants.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by Boston University, Institute for Economic Development in its series Boston University - Institute for Economic Development with number 96.

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Date of creation: Sep 1999
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Handle: RePEc:fth:bosecd:96

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  1. McManus, Walter & Gould, William & Welch, Finis, 1983. "Earnings of Hispanic Men: The Role of English Language Proficiency," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 1(2), pages 101-30, April.
  2. Dustmann, Christian, 1996. "Temporary Migration, Human Capital, and Language Fluency of Migrants," CEPR Discussion Papers 1376, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  3. Dustmann, Christian, 1994. "Speaking Fluency, Writing Fluency and Earnings of Migrants," CEPR Discussion Papers 905, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  4. Geoffrey Carliner, 1996. "The Wages and Language Skills of U.S. Immigrants," NBER Working Papers 5763, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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  8. Christian Dustmann & Arthur Van Soest, 2002. "Language and the earnings of immigrants," Industrial and Labor Relations Review, ILR Review, Cornell University, ILR School, vol. 55(3), pages 473-492, April.
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  12. Borjas, George J, 1985. "Assimilation, Changes in Cohort Quality, and the Earnings of Immigrants," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 3(4), pages 463-89, October.
  13. John Hayfron, 2001. "Language training, language proficiency and earnings of immigrants in Norway," Applied Economics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 33(15), pages 1971-1979.
  14. Evelina Tainer, 1988. "English Language Proficiency and the Determination of Earnings among Foreign-Born Men," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 23(1), pages 108-122.
  15. Paul W. Miller & Barry R. Chiswick, 1999. "Language skills and earnings among legalized aliens," Journal of Population Economics, Springer, vol. 12(1), pages 63-89.
  16. George J. Borjas, 1987. "Self-Selection and the Earnings of Immigrants," NBER Working Papers 2248, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  17. Christian Dustmann & Arthur van Soest, 2001. "Language Fluency And Earnings: Estimation With Misclassified Language Indicators," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 83(4), pages 663-674, November.
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