Language-Skill Complementarity: Returns to Immigrant Language Acquisition

37 Pages Posted: 12 Jun 2000 Last revised: 18 Oct 2010

See all articles by Eli Berman

Eli Berman

University of California, San Diego (UCSD) - Department of Economics; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Kevin Lang

Boston University - Department of Economics; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Erez Siniver

College of Management (Israel)

Date Written: June 2000

Abstract

We examine the effect of language acquisition on the growth of immigrants' earnings. We gathered data on recent Soviet immigrants to Israel that include retrospective questions on earnings and language ability on entry into their current job. Language acquisition is found to interact positively with occupation level. Immigrant programmers and computer technicians have a return to tenure about three percentage points higher than that of natives; improved Hebrew language skills account for between 2/3 and 3/4 of that differential wage growth. In contrast, construction workers and gas station attendants have no convergence of wages to those of natives and language acquisition has no discernible effect on their wages. For these less skilled workers the estimated return' to Hebrew proficiency in the cross-section is entirely due to ability bias. This finding may invite a reinterpretation of other studies on the returns to language acquisition for low wage immigrants.

Suggested Citation

Berman, Eli and Lang, Kevin and Siniver, Erez, Language-Skill Complementarity: Returns to Immigrant Language Acquisition (June 2000). NBER Working Paper No. w7737, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=232120

Eli Berman (Contact Author)

University of California, San Diego (UCSD) - Department of Economics ( email )

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Kevin Lang

Boston University - Department of Economics ( email )

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National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

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Cambridge, MA 02138
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Erez Siniver

College of Management (Israel)

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P. O. Box 9141
Rishon LeZion, 75190
Israel

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