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Unilingual versus Bilingual Education System: A Political Economy Analysis

  • Ortega, Javier
  • Tangeraas, Thomas

We define an economy composed of two language groups. Value is created through bilateral trade between individuals who can speak the same language. The value of trade increases in each participant's level of education. We compare a bilingual education system, under which the individuals who take education become bilingual, with a unilingual system, under which the individuals attending school end up speaking the language of the politically dominating group only. Bilingualism is socially optimal when education levels are centralized. In the decentralized equilibrium, individuals (i) vote over education systems anticipating the future levels of education (ii) independently and simultaneously choose whether or not to take education. We show that in the unilingual system the returns to education for each member of the dominated group positively depend on the number of members of the same group attending school (a ‘bandwagon’ effect). Instead, under bilingualism, decisions to take education are negatively correlated across groups (a ‘duplication’ effect). For this reason, the equilibrium education levels may be higher under unilingualism, and there may be unanimity for unilingualism. We find that language conflict, whenever it arises, consists in a situation in which uniligualism is supported by the dominant group, while bilingualism is defended by the dominated group. We characterize also the conditions under which unanimity for bilingualism arises. The predictions of the model are shown to be compatible with the almost unanimous choice of a bilingual Finnish-Swedish education system in Finland (1919-22) and the choice of a unilingual French-language system in France (1789-94).

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Paper provided by C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers in its series CEPR Discussion Papers with number 4003.

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Date of creation: Aug 2003
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Handle: RePEc:cpr:ceprdp:4003
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  1. Edward P. Lazear, 1995. "Culture and Language," NBER Working Papers 5249, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Victor Ginsburgh & Shlomo Weber, 2005. "Language Disenfranchisement in the European Union," Journal of Common Market Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 43(2), pages 273-286, 06.
  3. Joseph Farrell & Paul Klemperer, 2006. "Co-ordination and Lock-in: Competition with Switching Costs and Network Effects," Economics Papers 2006-W07, Economics Group, Nuffield College, University of Oxford.
  4. Ortega, Javier & Tangeraas, Thomas, 2003. "Unilingual versus Bilingual Education System: A Political Economy Analysis," CEPR Discussion Papers 4003, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  5. Diamond, Peter A, 1982. "Aggregate Demand Management in Search Equilibrium," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 90(5), pages 881-94, October.
  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. Card, David, 1999. "The causal effect of education on earnings," Handbook of Labor Economics, in: O. Ashenfelter & D. Card (ed.), Handbook of Labor Economics, edition 1, volume 3, chapter 30, pages 1801-1863 Elsevier.
  8. Lang, Kevin, 1986. "A Language Theory of Discrimination," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 101(2), pages 363-82, May.
  9. Jeffrey Church & Ian King, 1993. "Bilingualism and Network Externalities," Canadian Journal of Economics, Canadian Economics Association, vol. 26(2), pages 337-45, May.
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