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Linguistic Skills and the Intergenerational Transmission of Language


  • Caminal, Ramon


  • Cappellari, Lorenzo

    () (Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore)

  • Di Paolo, Antonio

    () (University of Barcelona)


We investigate the pattern of intergenerational transmission of language in a bilingual society. We consider the case of Catalonia, where the two main speech communities, Spanish and Catalan, are of similar sizes, both languages are official, and each one enjoys the protection of a different layer of government. However, whereas all native Catalan speakers are bilingual, only a fraction of native Spanish speakers are fully proficient in Catalan. In this environment, transmission decisions are far from trivial. We provide a simple theory showing that changing the costs of acquiring a second language affects language skills as well as the language parents speak to their children. Empirically, we exploit the natural experiment generated by a language-in-education reform that introduced Catalan–Spanish bilingualism at school to estimate the causal effects of language skills on intergenerational transmission. Results show that the increased proficiency in Catalan among native Spanish speakers induced by the reform augmented their propensity to speak Catalan to their offspring. The causal effect of the policy-induced increase in language proficiency on language transmission is not confounded by spurious trends, potential changes in language identity, and linguistically mixed partnership formation.

Suggested Citation

  • Caminal, Ramon & Cappellari, Lorenzo & Di Paolo, Antonio, 2018. "Linguistic Skills and the Intergenerational Transmission of Language," IZA Discussion Papers 11793, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  • Handle: RePEc:iza:izadps:dp11793

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    language; intergenerational transmission; language proficiency; language-in-education reform;

    JEL classification:

    • I28 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - Government Policy
    • J13 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Fertility; Family Planning; Child Care; Children; Youth
    • J24 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Human Capital; Skills; Occupational Choice; Labor Productivity
    • J62 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Mobility, Unemployment, Vacancies, and Immigrant Workers - - - Job, Occupational and Intergenerational Mobility; Promotion
    • Z13 - Other Special Topics - - Cultural Economics - - - Economic Sociology; Economic Anthropology; Language; Social and Economic Stratification


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