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Language Assimilation and Performance in Achievement Tests among Immigrant Children: Evidence from a Field Experiment


  • Mukhopadhyay, Sankar

    () (University of Nevada, Reno)


We provide new evidence about language assimilation and its effect on test scores using data from two rounds (conducted approximately six years apart) of the New Immigrants Survey (NIS). As part of the NIS interviews, U.S. born and foreign-born children of immigrants were asked to take Woodcock-Johnson achievement test. In both rounds, prior to the administration of tests, children of Hispanic origin were randomly assigned to take the tests either in Spanish or in English. Therefore, we can attribute the difference in scores to language proficiency and directly estimate the rate of assimilation. Our results suggest that in reading tests, U.S. born children of Hispanic immigrants perform better, when they are assigned to take the tests in English, and the advantage remains stable across two rounds of interviews. However, there is substantial heterogeneity. For example, U.S. born children at the top of score distribution perform better when they take tests in Spanish. Foreign-born children of Hispanic immigrants exhibit Spanish dominance during the first round, but it declines and in some cases completely disappears by the second round. We find that foreign-born children who immigrated to the U.S. after age six, exhibit Spanish dominance in reading tests in the first round. However, during the six years between interviews, Spanish dominance disappears among foreign-born children who immigrated between the ages of six and eight (in reading) and in all children (in math). Moreover, for children who still have Spanish dominance in reading, the score differences have narrowed.

Suggested Citation

  • Mukhopadhyay, Sankar, 2018. "Language Assimilation and Performance in Achievement Tests among Immigrant Children: Evidence from a Field Experiment," IZA Discussion Papers 11524, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  • Handle: RePEc:iza:izadps:dp11524

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Sylke Schnepf, 2007. "Immigrants’ educational disadvantage: an examination across ten countries and three surveys," Journal of Population Economics, Springer;European Society for Population Economics, vol. 20(3), pages 527-545, July.
    2. Sergio Firpo & Nicole M. Fortin & Thomas Lemieux, 2009. "Unconditional Quantile Regressions," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 77(3), pages 953-973, May.
    3. 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.
    4. Richard Akresh & Redstone Akresh, 2011. "Using Achievement Tests to Measure Language Assimilation and Language Bias among the Children of Immigrants," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 46(3), pages 647-667.
    5. Berman, Eli & Lang, Kevin & Siniver, Erez, 2003. "Language-skill complementarity: returns to immigrant language acquisition," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 10(3), pages 265-290, June.
    6. De Paola, Maria & Brunello, Giorgio, 2016. "Education as a Tool for the Economic Integration of Migrants," IZA Discussion Papers 9836, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    7. Evelina Tainer, 1988. "English Language Proficiency and the Determination of Earnings among Foreign-Born Men," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 23(1), pages 108-122.
    8. Christian Dustmann & Arthur Van Soest, 2002. "Language and the Earnings of Immigrants," ILR Review, Cornell University, ILR School, vol. 55(3), pages 473-492, April.
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    More about this item


    immigrants; language assimilation; test score; education; children;

    JEL classification:

    • J15 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Economics of Minorities, Races, Indigenous Peoples, and Immigrants; Non-labor Discrimination
    • I20 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - General
    • Z13 - Other Special Topics - - Cultural Economics - - - Economic Sociology; Economic Anthropology; Language; Social and Economic Stratification

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