English Language Fluency Among Immigrants in the United States
Barry R. Chiswick
University of Illinois at Chicago; Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA)
Paul W. Miller
Curtin University of Technology - School of Economics and Finance; Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA); Curtin University - Centre for Research in Applied Economics
Research in Labor Economics, Vol. 17
This paper analyzes the determinants of English language fluency among adult foreign-born men and women in the United States. It shows that fluency rates are higher among those for whom the benefits of English language fluency are greater and the costs are lower. The data are from the PUMS file of the 1990 Census of Population and a set of variables added to the Census file. The latter variables include a minority language concentration measure, an index of linguistic distance between English and the origin language, the geographic distance from the origin to the U.S., the return migration rate from the U.S., and a measure of the extent of foreign language media (i.e., the number of radio stations in Spanish).
The language model is based on the integrating of migration theory and human capital theory. The conceptual variables (exposure, efficiency and economic variables) are converted into empirically measurable variables. It is shown that the model is very robust. In particular, fluency rates are higher for those with more schooling, who immigrated at a younger age, who lived in the U.S. a longer period of time, who live in areas with fewer origin language speakers, and, among women, who have fewer and younger children. Fluency rates are also higher for those with less access to origin language media, with a lower probability of returning to the origin, whose country of origin is geographically further from the U.S., and whose origin language is linguistically closer to English.
JEL Classification: I21, J61
Date posted: January 20, 1998