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Immigrant-Native Substitutability: The Role of Language Ability

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  • Ethan G. Lewis

Abstract

Wage evidence suggests that immigrant workers are imperfectly substitutable for native-born workers with similar education and experience. Using U.S. Censuses and recent American Community Survey data, I ask to what extent differences in language skills drive this. I find they are important. I estimate that the response of immigrants’ relative wages to immigration is concentrated among immigrants with poor English skills. Similarly, immigrants who arrive at young ages, as adults, both have stronger English skills and exhibit greater substitutability for native-born workers than immigrants who arrive older. In U.S. markets where Spanish speakers are concentrated, I find a “Spanish-speaking” labor market emerges: in such markets, the return to speaking English is low, and the wages of Spanish and non-Spanish speakers respond most strongly to skill ratios in their own language group. Finally, in Puerto Rico, where almost all workers speak Spanish, I find immigrants and natives are perfect substitutes. The implications for immigrant poverty and regional settlement patterns are analyzed.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 17609.

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Date of creation: Nov 2011
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Publication status: published as “Immigrant-Native Substitutability and The Role of Language” in Immigration, Poverty, and Socioeconomic Inequality, David Card and Steven Raphael, eds. New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 2013, pp 60-97.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:17609

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  1. Eli Berman & Kevin Lang & Erez Siniver, 1999. "Language Skill Complementarity: Returns to Immigrant Language Acquisition," Boston University - Institute for Economic Development, Boston University, Institute for Economic Development 96, Boston University, Institute for Economic Development.
  2. Christian Dustmann & Francesca Fabbri, 2003. "Language proficiency and labour market performance of immigrants in the UK," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, Royal Economic Society, vol. 113(489), pages 695-717, 07.
  3. Barry Chiswick & Paul Miller, 2010. "Occupational language requirements and the value of English in the US labor market," Journal of Population Economics, Springer, Springer, vol. 23(1), pages 353-372, January.
  4. David Card & Ethan Lewis, 2005. "The Diffusion of Mexican Immigrants During the 1990s: Explanations and Impacts," CReAM Discussion Paper Series 0504, Centre for Research and Analysis of Migration (CReAM), Department of Economics, University College London.
  5. Geoffrey Carliner, 1996. "The Wages and Language Skills of U.S. Immigrants," NBER Working Papers 5763, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  6. 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.
  7. David Card, 1997. "Immigrant Inflows, Native Outflows, and the Local Labor Market Impacts of Higher Immigration," NBER Working Papers 5927, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  8. Chiswick, Barry R & Miller, Paul W, 1995. "The Endogeneity between Language and Earnings: International Analyses," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, University of Chicago Press, vol. 13(2), pages 246-88, April.
  9. Giovanni Peri & Chad Sparber, 2007. "Task Specialization, Comparative Advantages, and the Effects of Immigration on Wages," NBER Working Papers 13389, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  10. Rachel M. Friedberg & Jennifer Hunt, 1995. "The Impact of Immigrants on Host Country Wages, Employment and Growth," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, American Economic Association, vol. 9(2), pages 23-44, Spring.
  11. Steven Raphael & Eugene Smolensky, 2009. "Immigration and Poverty in the United States," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, American Economic Association, vol. 99(2), pages 41-44, May.
  12. George J. Borjas, 1994. "The Economics of Immigration," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 32(4), pages 1667-1717, December.
  13. Borjas, George J. (ed.), 2007. "Mexican Immigration to the United States," National Bureau of Economic Research Books, University of Chicago Press, edition 2, number 9780226066325, 01-2013.
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Cited by:
  1. Sweetman, Arthur & van Ours, Jan C., 2014. "Immigration: What about the Children and Grandchildren?," IZA Discussion Papers 7919, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  2. Francine D. Blau & Lawrence M. Kahn, 2012. "Immigration and the Distribution of Incomes," NBER Working Papers 18515, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Protte, Benjamin, 2012. "How does Economic Integration Change Personal Income Taxation? Evidence from a new Index of Potential Labor Mobility," Working Papers, University of Mannheim, Department of Economics 12-20, University of Mannheim, Department of Economics.
  4. Suzanne Kok, 2013. "Returns to Communication in Specialised and Diversified US Cities," CPB Discussion Paper 236, CPB Netherlands Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis.

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