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The Wages and Language Skills of U.S. Immigrants

  • Geoffrey Carliner

This paper finds that immigrants on average earned about $0.50/hour less than native-born Americans in 1989. Immigrants from some regions earned much more than natives, while others, especially from Mexico, earned much less. This paper also finds that when immigrants first arrive in the U.S. they earn significantly less than native workers, but they close the gap by about 0.8 percentage points with each added year of residence. As a result, the wage of the typical immigrant who arrived in the 1950s and 1960s eventually surpassed the average native wage. Improvements in English language skills contributed 6 to 18 percent of this narrowing, depending on sex and education level. The remainder came from unmeasured sources of assimilation. However, since the 1950s and 1960s the wage gap between natives and newly arrived immigrants has widened by 0.2 to 0.6 percentage points annually. Because they start with a larger disadvantage the average wage of more recent immigrants may never exceed the average native wage. A decline in the average education of newly arrived immigrants accounts for 4-23% percent of the starting wage gap, and shifts in the source countries of new immigrants from Europe to Latin America and Asia account for 73 to 95 percent. Changes in English skills and in other factors have played little role in this relative decline. This analysis also finds a significant return to English skills. Even after controlling for education, region of origin, and years of U.S. residence, workers are rewarded for speaking English well. Differences between each of the five English skill categories reported in the Census data are about the same as the return to an additional year of schooling.

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File URL: http://www.nber.org/papers/w5763.pdf
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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 5763.

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Date of creation: Sep 1996
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Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:5763
Note: LS
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  1. Daneshvary, Nasser, et al, 1992. "Job Search and Immigrant Assimilation: An Earnings Frontier Approach," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 74(3), pages 482-92, August.
  2. Dustmann, Christian, 1994. "Speaking Fluency, Writing Fluency and Earnings of Migrants," CEPR Discussion Papers 905, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  3. Borjas, George J & Bratsberg, Bernt, 1996. "Who Leaves? The Outmigration of the Foreign-Born," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 78(1), pages 165-76, February.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. Rivera-Batiz, Francisco L., 1990. "English language proficiency and the economic progress of immigrants," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 34(3), pages 295-300, November.
  8. Gilles Grenier, 1984. "The Effects of Language Characteristics on the Wages of Hispanic-American Males," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 19(1), pages 35-52.
  9. Levy, Frank & Murnane, Richard J, 1992. "U.S. Earnings Levels and Earnings Inequality: A Review of Recent Trends and Proposed Explanations," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 30(3), pages 1333-81, September.
  10. Carliner, Geoffrey, 1980. "Wages, Earnings and Hours of First, Second, and Third Generation American Males," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 18(1), pages 87-102, January.
  11. Kossoudji, Sherrie A, 1988. "English Language Ability and the Labor Market Opportunities of Hispanic and East Asian Immigrant Men," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 6(2), pages 205-28, April.
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