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The Role of Language in Shaping International Migration

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  • Adsera, Alicia

    ()
    (Princeton University)

  • Pytlikova, Mariola

    ()
    (KORA - Danish Institute for Local and Regional Government Research)

Abstract

Fluency in (or ease to quickly learn) the language of the destination country plays a key role in the transfer of human capital from the source country to another country and boosts the immigrant's rate of success at the destination's labor market. This suggests that the ability to learn and speak a foreign language might be an important factor in the migration decision. We use a novel dataset on immigration flows and stocks of foreigners in 30 OECD destination countries from 223 source countries for the years 1980–2009 and a wide range of linguistic indicators to study the role of language in shaping international migration. Specifically, we investigate how both linguistic distance and linguistic diversity, as a proxy for the "potential" ease to learn a new language and to adapt to a new context, affect migration. We find that migration rates increase with linguistic proximity and the result is robust to the inclusion of genetic distance as a proxy for cultural proximity and to the use of multiple measures of linguistic distance. Interestingly, linguistic proximity matters more for migrants moving into non-English speaking destinations than to English-speaking countries. The likely higher proficiency of the average migrant in English rather than in other languages may diminish the relevance of the linguistic proximity indicators to English speaking destinations. Finally, destinations that are linguistically more diverse and polarized attract fewer migrants than those with a single language; whereas more linguistic polarization at origin seems to act as a push factor.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA) in its series IZA Discussion Papers with number 6333.

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Length: 41 pages
Date of creation: Jan 2012
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:iza:izadps:dp6333

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Keywords: international migration; language;

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References

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  1. McKenzie, David & Rapoport, Hillel, 2007. "Self-selection patterns in Mexico-U.S. migration : the role of migration networks," Policy Research Working Paper Series 4118, The World Bank.
  2. Klaus Desmet & Ignacio Ortuño-Ortín & Romain Wacziarg, 2011. "The Political Economy of Linguistic Cleavages," Vives discussion paper series 20, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Faculteit Economie en Bedrijfswetenschappen, Vives.
  3. Michèle Belot & Sjef Ederveen, 2012. "Cultural barriers in migration between OECD countries," Journal of Population Economics, Springer, vol. 25(3), pages 1077-1105, July.
  4. Ingo E. Isphording & Sebastian Otten, 2011. "Linguistic Distance and the Language Fluency of Immigrants," Ruhr Economic Papers 0274, Rheinisch-Westfälisches Institut für Wirtschaftsforschung, Ruhr-Universität Bochum, Universität Dortmund, Universität Duisburg-Essen.
  5. Barry Chiswick & Paul Miller, 2010. "Occupational language requirements and the value of English in the US labor market," Journal of Population Economics, Springer, vol. 23(1), pages 353-372, January.
  6. Chiswick, Barry R & Miller, Paul W, 1995. "The Endogeneity between Language and Earnings: International Analyses," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 13(2), pages 246-88, April.
  7. Wacziarg, Romain & Spolaore, Enrico, 2006. "The Diffusion of Development," Research Papers 1898r1, Stanford University, Graduate School of Business.
  8. Chiswick, Barry R. & Miller, Paul W., 2004. "Linguistic Distance: A Quantitative Measure of the Distance Between English and Other Languages," IZA Discussion Papers 1246, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  9. Timothy J. Hatton & Jeffrey G. Williamson, 2002. "What Fundamentals Drive World Migration?," NBER Working Papers 9159, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  10. Hoyt Bleakley & Aimee Chin, 2009. "Age at Arrival, English Proficiency, and Social Assimilation Among U.S. Immigrants," CReAM Discussion Paper Series 0913, Centre for Research and Analysis of Migration (CReAM), Department of Economics, University College London.
  11. Christian Dustmann & Francesca Fabbri, 2003. "Language proficiency and labour market performance of immigrants in the UK," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 113(489), pages 695-717, 07.
  12. Paul W. Miller & Barry R. Chiswick, 2002. "Immigrant earnings: Language skills, linguistic concentrations and the business cycle," Journal of Population Economics, Springer, vol. 15(1), pages 31-57.
  13. Clark, Ximena & Hatton, Timothy J. & Williamson, Jeffrey G., 2004. "Explaining U.S. immigration, 1971-98," Policy Research Working Paper Series 3252, The World Bank.
  14. Chiswick, Barry R. & Miller, Paul W., 2005. "Computer Skills, Destination Language Proficiency and the Earnings of Natives and Immigrants," IZA Discussion Papers 1755, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  15. Grogger, Jeffrey & Hanson, Gordon H., 2011. "Income maximization and the selection and sorting of international migrants," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 95(1), pages 42-57, May.
  16. Simpson, Nicole & Sparber, Chad, 2010. "The Short-and Long-Run Determinants of Unskilled Immigration into US States," Working Papers 2010-06, Department of Economics, Colgate University.
  17. Pedersen, Peder J. & Pytlikova, Mariola & Smith, Nina, 2008. "Selection and network effects--Migration flows into OECD countries 1990-2000," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 52(7), pages 1160-1186, October.
  18. Hoyt Bleakley & Aimee Chin, 2004. "Language Skills and Earnings: Evidence from Childhood Immigrants," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 86(2), pages 481-496, May.
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