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Culture and Language

  • Edward P. Lazear

Common culture and common language facilitate trade between people. Minorities have incentives to become assimilated and to learn the majority language so that they have a larger pool of potential trading partners. The value of assimilation is larger to someone from a small minority than to one from a large minority group. When a society has a very large majority of individuals from one culture, individuals from minority groups will be assimilated more quickly. Assimilation is less likely when an immigrant's native culture and language is broadly represented in his new country. Also, when governments protect minority interests directly, incentives to be assimilated into the majority culture are reduced. Both factors may explain the recent rise in multiculturalism. Individuals do not properly internalize the social value of assimilation and ignore the benefits others receive when they learn the majority language and become assimilated. In a pluralistic society, a government policy that encourages diverse cultural immigration over concentrated immigration is likely to increase the welfare of the population. In the absence of strong offsetting effects, policies which encourage multi- culturalism reduce the amount of trade and have adverse welfare consequences. Conversely, policies that subsidize assimilation and the acquisition of majority language skills can be socially beneficial. The theory is tested and confirmed by examining U.S. Census data, which reveals that the likelihood that an immigrant will learn English is inversely related to the proportion of the local population that speaks his or her native language.

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Article provided by University of Chicago Press in its journal Journal of Political Economy.

Volume (Year): 107 (1999)
Issue (Month): S6 (December)
Pages: S95-S126

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Handle: RePEc:ucp:jpolec:v:107:y:1999:i:s6:p:s95-s126
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  1. 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.
  2. Chiswick, Barry R & Miller, Paul M, 1996. "Ethnic Networks and Language Proficiency among Immigrants," Journal of Population Economics, Springer, vol. 9(1), pages 19-35, February.
  3. repec:oup:qjecon:v:101:y:1986:i:2:p:363-82 is not listed on IDEAS
  4. Chiswick, Barry R & Miller, Paul W, 1994. "Language Choice among Immigrants in a Multi-lingual Destination," Journal of Population Economics, Springer, vol. 7(2), pages 119-31.
  5. Barry R. Chiswick, 1998. "Hebrew language usage: Determinants and effects on earnings among immigrants in Israel," Journal of Population Economics, Springer, vol. 11(2), pages 253-271.
  6. Jackson, Matthew O. & Wolinsky, Asher, 1996. "A Strategic Model of Social and Economic Networks," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 71(1), pages 44-74, October.
  7. Edward P. Lazear, 1976. "Intergenerational Externalities," NBER Working Papers 0145, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  8. repec:oup:qjecon:v:107:y:1992:i:2:p:363-405 is not listed on IDEAS
  9. 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.
  10. Chiswick, Barry R, 1978. "The Effect of Americanization on the Earnings of Foreign-born Men," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 86(5), pages 897-921, October.
  11. Jerry Green, 1976. "On the Optimal Structure of Liability Laws," Bell Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 7(2), pages 553-574, Autumn.
  12. Chiswick, Barry R, 1991. "Speaking, Reading, and Earnings among Low-Skilled Immigrants," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 9(2), pages 149-70, April.
  13. 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.
  14. Economides, Nicholas & Siow, Aloysius, 1988. "The Division of Markets is Limited by the Extent of Liquidity (Spatial Competition with Externalities)," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 78(1), pages 108-21, March.
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