The Role of Language in Shaping International Migration

41 Pages Posted: 12 Feb 2012

See all articles by Alícia Adserà

Alícia Adserà

Princeton University - Princeton School of Public and International Affairs; Princeton University - Office of Population Research (OPR); IZA Institute of Labor Economics

Mariola Pytliková

VSB - Technical University of Ostrava - Faculty of Economics; Central European Labour Studies Institute (CELSI); University College London - CReAM - Centre for Research and Analysis of Migration; IZA Institute of Labor Economics; Charles University in Prague - CERGE-EI (Center for Economic Research and Graduate Education - Economics Institute)

Abstract

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.

Keywords: international migration, language

JEL Classification: J61, F22, O15

Suggested Citation

Adsera, Alicia and Pytliková, Mariola and Pytliková, Mariola, The Role of Language in Shaping International Migration. IZA Discussion Paper No. 6333, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2003666 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2003666

Alicia Adsera (Contact Author)

Princeton University - Princeton School of Public and International Affairs ( email )

Princeton University
Princeton, NJ 08544

Princeton University - Office of Population Research (OPR) ( email )

200 Wallace Hall
NJ 08544
United States

IZA Institute of Labor Economics ( email )

P.O. Box 7240
Bonn, D-53072
Germany

Mariola Pytliková

VSB - Technical University of Ostrava - Faculty of Economics ( email )

Sokolska 33
Ostrava 1, 701 21
Czech Republic

Central European Labour Studies Institute (CELSI) ( email )

Zvolenská 29
Bratislava, 82109
Slovakia

University College London - CReAM - Centre for Research and Analysis of Migration ( email )

Drayton House
30 Gordon Street
London, WC1H 0AX
United Kingdom

IZA Institute of Labor Economics ( email )

P.O. Box 7240
Bonn, D-53072
Germany

Charles University in Prague - CERGE-EI (Center for Economic Research and Graduate Education - Economics Institute) ( email )

P.O. Box 882
7 Politickych veznu
Prague 1, 111 21
Czech Republic

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