August 31: Bilingualism Translates into Higher Earnings, Study Finds | Gordon S. Lang School of Business and Economics

August 31: Bilingualism Translates into Higher Earnings, Study Finds

Posted on Tuesday, August 31st, 2010

Bilingual employees earn more than their unilingual counterparts even if they aren't using their language skills on the job, according to a new University of Guelph study. Economics professors Louis Christofides and Robert Swidinsky examined the earnings of Canadians and compared the difference in wages between bilingual and unilingual employees as well as bilingual employees who are required to speak a second language on the job.

They found that bilingual men earn 3.6 per cent and bilingual women earn 6.6 per cent more than those who only speak English, however there was no additional financial reward for bilingual employees who actually speak French in the workplace.

“In English Canada, the economic benefits of having French as a second language are associated with language knowledge rather than language use in job-related activities,” said Christofides. “It seems you don’t have to actually speak a second language on the job to reap the financial rewards of being bilingual.”

These research findings are featured in today's Globe and Mail in the article, "Earning Power: Billingualism pays, study finds."

The study, which was recently published in Canadian Public Policy/Analyse de Politiques, is the first to explore the distinction between language knowledge and language use.

To reach their findings, the two researchers examined data from Statistics Canada 2001 Census, which for the first time, asked respondents not only about their knowledge of the official languages but also the languages used at work. This allowed Christofides and Swidinsky to compare people's use of bilingual skills to their income.

The reason why bilingual employees are often paid more, despite the fact that they may not actually be using their language skills, could be because these skills indicate other marketable qualities, said Christofides.

“In light of the limited demand for French in the marketplace in English Canada, a possible interpretation for why bilingual employees tend to earn more money than unilingual employees is that second language skills may indicate those individuals are stronger in unmeasured labour market characteristics, such as ability, cognition, perseverance and quality education. These unmeasured characteristics can potentially have a bearing on labour productivity and increase the wages of bilingual individuals."

However, the two economists found that speaking a second language on the job does actually pay off for employees working in Quebec, where the demand for English is higher than the demand for French in the rest of Canada.

Study results show that bilingual francophone men in Quebec earn up to seven per cent more than those who only speak French, and that number increases to almost 21 per cent for those who actually speak English on the job. Results were similar but slightly lower for women.

This means that for every $1,000 a unilingual francophone man earns in Quebec, one that knows but does not use English at work makes an additional $70, and one that knows and also uses English earns a further $139 ─ a total of $209 more than a unilingual francophone.

“In Quebec, too, a significant component of total rewards for English second-language skills is derived from language knowledge,” said Swidinsky. “However, because of the substantial demand for English in Quebec and international workplaces, an important further component of the overall return, especially for francophone men, is associated with the actual use of language in the workplace.”

The study also found that Quebec bilinguals who use both languages at work have similar earnings regardless of whether their mother tongue is French or English, he added.

“In general, the study concludes that the gains from language reflect the needs of the marketplace.”

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