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The Role of Language in Shaping International Migration

  • Adsera, Alicia

    ()

    (Princeton University)

  • Pytlikova, Mariola

    ()

    (CERGE-EI)

Fluency in (or ease to quickly learn) the language of the destination country plays a key role in the transfer of human capital from the source country to another country and boosts the immigrant's rate of success at the destination's labor market. This suggests that the ability to learn and speak a foreign language might be an important factor in the migration decision. We use a novel dataset on immigration flows and stocks of foreigners in 30 OECD destination countries from 223 source countries for the years 1980–2009 and a wide range of linguistic indicators to study the role of language in shaping international migration. Specifically, we investigate how both linguistic distance and linguistic diversity, as a proxy for the "potential" ease to learn a new language and to adapt to a new context, affect migration. We find that migration rates increase with linguistic proximity and the result is robust to the inclusion of genetic distance as a proxy for cultural proximity and to the use of multiple measures of linguistic distance. Interestingly, linguistic proximity matters more for migrants moving into non-English speaking destinations than to English-speaking countries. The likely higher proficiency of the average migrant in English rather than in other languages may diminish the relevance of the linguistic proximity indicators to English speaking destinations. Finally, destinations that are linguistically more diverse and polarized attract fewer migrants than those with a single language; whereas more linguistic polarization at origin seems to act as a push factor.

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Paper provided by Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA) in its series IZA Discussion Papers with number 6333.

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Length: 41 pages
Date of creation: Jan 2012
Date of revision:
Publication status: published in: Economic Journal, 2015, 125(586), F49–F81
Handle: RePEc:iza:izadps:dp6333
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  1. Isphording, Ingo E. & Otten, Sebastian, 2011. "Linguistic Distance and the Language Fluency of Immigrants," Ruhr Economic Papers 274, RWI - Leibniz-Institut für Wirtschaftsforschung, Ruhr-University Bochum, TU Dortmund University, University of Duisburg-Essen.
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  3. Barry R Chiswick & Paul W Miller, 2007. "Occupational Language Requirements and the Value of English in the US Labor Market," Economics Discussion / Working Papers 07-06, The University of Western Australia, Department of Economics.
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  6. Dustmann, Christian & Fabbri, Francesca, 2000. "Language Proficiency and Labour Market Performance of Immigrants in the UK," CEPR Discussion Papers 2487, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  7. Desmet, Klaus & Ortuño-Ortín, Ignacio & Wacziarg, Romain, 2012. "The political economy of linguistic cleavages," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 97(2), pages 322-338.
  8. George J. Borjas, 2003. "The Labor Demand Curve is Downward Sloping: Reexamining the Impact of Immigration on the Labor Market," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 118(4), pages 1335-1374.
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  11. Paul W. Miller & Barry R. Chiswick, 2002. "Immigrant earnings: Language skills, linguistic concentrations and the business cycle," Journal of Population Economics, Springer;European Society for Population Economics, vol. 15(1), pages 31-57.
  12. Pedersen, Peder J. & Pytlikova, Mariola & Smith, Nina, 2008. "Selection and network effects--Migration flows into OECD countries 1990-2000," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 52(7), pages 1160-1186, October.
  13. Simpson, Nicole & Sparber, Chad, 2010. "The Short-and Long-Run Determinants of Unskilled Immigration into US States," Working Papers 2010-06, Department of Economics, Colgate University.
  14. David McKenzie & Hillel Rapoport, 2010. "Self-Selection Patterns in Mexico-U.S. Migration: The Role of Migration Networks," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 92(4), pages 811-821, November.
  15. Clark, Ximena & Hatton, Timothy J. & Williamson, Jeffrey G., 2004. "Explaining U.S. immigration, 1971-98," Policy Research Working Paper Series 3252, The World Bank.
  16. Klaus Desmet & Ignacio Ortuno-Ortin & Shlomo Weber, 2008. "Linguistic Diversity and Redistribution," Working Papers 004-08, International School of Economics at TSU, Tbilisi, Republic of Georgia.
  17. Kaivan Munshi, 2003. "Networks in the Modern Economy: Mexican Migrants in the U. S. Labor Market," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 118(2), pages 549-599.
  18. Manuel Arellano & Stephen Bond, 1991. "Some Tests of Specification for Panel Data: Monte Carlo Evidence and an Application to Employment Equations," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 58(2), pages 277-297.
  19. 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.
  20. 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.
  21. Grogger, Jeffrey & Hanson, Gordon H., 2011. "Income maximization and the selection and sorting of international migrants," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 95(1), pages 42-57, May.
  22. Chiswick, Barry R. & Miller, Paul W., 2004. "Linguistic Distance: A Quantitative Measure of the Distance Between English and Other Languages," IZA Discussion Papers 1246, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  23. Hoyt Bleakley & Aimee Chin, 2010. "Age at Arrival, English Proficiency, and Social Assimilation among US Immigrants," American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, American Economic Association, vol. 2(1), pages 165-92, January.
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