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Occupational selection in multilingual labor markets: the case of Catalonia

  • Núria Quella
  • Silvio Rendon

Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to measure the effect that knowing the Catalan language has on individuals’ comparative advantage to perform certain jobs in Catalonia (Spain), where Catalan and Spanish coexist. Design/methodology/approach – Using census data for 1991 and 1996, and for individuals born in Spain, the paper first estimates a Probit model for individuals’ level of Catalan proficiency in order to correct for the possible endogeneity of Catalan knowledge, as it may be jointly determined with occupational selection or be a reflection of unobserved human capital or innate ability. Then, it estimates a bivariate Probit model for the probability of choosing a given occupation conditional on a given Catalan proficiency level. Findings – The paper finds that advanced proficiency in Catalan reinforces selection into being employed, being an entrepreneur, and into white-collar occupations and communication-intensive jobs. Being able to read and speak Catalan increases selection into white collar occupations by between 11 and 16 percentage points, while writing Catalan increases by 4 to 7 percentage points the probability of engaging in services, and government and educational activities. Practical implications – Because census data are cross-sectional panel effects on language selection cannot be analyzed. Nevertheless, the paper's results suggest that investing in learning the local language, at the firm and the government level, improves job matching and assimilation of workers to multilingual economies. The authors suggest a cost-benefit analysis to assess the effectiveness of language policies for further research. Originality/value – The results contribute to the scarce literature on the economic value of a language, i.e. on how much language knowledge as a form of human capital reinforces individuals’ comparative advantage to perform certain tasks.

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Article provided by Emerald Group Publishing in its journal International Journal of Manpower.

Volume (Year): 33 (2012)
Issue (Month): 8 (July)
Pages: 918-937

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Handle: RePEc:eme:ijmpps:v:33:y:2012:i:8:p:918-937
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  1. Chiswick, Barry R. & Miller, Paul W., 2007. "Matching Language Proficiency to Occupation: The Effect on Immigrants’ Earnings," IZA Discussion Papers 2587, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
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  9. Bedassa Tadesse & Roger White, 2010. "Cultural distance as a determinant of bilateral trade flows: do immigrants counter the effect of cultural differences?," Applied Economics Letters, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 17(2), pages 147-152, January.
  10. Heckman, James J & Sedlacek, Guilherme, 1985. "Heterogeneity, Aggregation, and Market Wage Functions: An Empirical Model of Self-selection in the Labor Market," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 93(6), pages 1077-1125, December.
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  12. William K. Hutchinson, 2002. "Does Ease of Communication Increase Trade? Commonality of Language and Bilateral Trade," Vanderbilt University Department of Economics Working Papers 0217, Vanderbilt University Department of Economics.
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