Look Who's Talking. On the Heterogeneous Returns to Foreign Language Use at Work among Natives and Migrants in Europe

Zhiling Wang, Thomas de Graaff, Peter Nijkamp
(2017) GLO Discussion Paper, No. 104

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We examine the heterogeneous impacts of foreign language use at work on earnings of both native-born workers and foreign-born workers, using a longitudinal survey, viz. the European Community Household Panel (ECHP) running from 1994 to 2001. Our findings are the following. First, for native-born workers with a tertiary diploma, using a foreign language at work is found to have an unambiguously positive impact on their earnings (2% on average). Second, for foreign-born workers, returns to foreign language use at work is highly complementary to education. Foreign language users below the upper secondary educational level earn significantly less (ยก8%) than those who use the local language at work. Third, with regard to language types, a linguistically distant foreign language gives native-born workers the highest wage premium, while the use of EU official languages pays off the most for foreign-born workers. Fourth, our results do not show evidence that the lack of local language knowledge of low-educated migrants causes these results, as immigrants for whom themother tongue is similar to the local language show a similar pattern.