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Is there a bilingual advantage? the effects of non-English language skills on occupational attainment among immigrants and natives

Josep Ubalde ORCID logo and Josiah Heyman

Abstract

There is a considerable number of studies that analyze the benefits of language(s) in the labor market. It is a sensitive topic because of its relevance for language maintenance, and therefore, for the selective acculturation of immigrants in host societies. In this paper, the effect of non-English language fluency on the occupational attainment of immigrants and natives is analyzed, both in terms of occupational wages and socio-economic status. Results indicate that there is no advantage associated with non-English language fluency, either for natives or immigrants. Rather, a penalty for the specific case of Spanish fluency among immigrants was found. Three explanations from previous literature regarding the benefits of bilingualism in the labor market – human capital, devaluation and discrimination— are discussed in relation to the obtained results. The paper concludes with some recommendations about the recognition of language diversity in the labor market and policies aimed at the integrative acculturation of immigrants.


Corresponding author: Josep Ubalde, Fundació URV, Tarragona, Spain, E-mail:

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Received: 2020-05-19
Accepted: 2021-01-11
Published Online: 2021-05-28
Published in Print: 2021-07-27

© 2021 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston

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