Academic journal article Development and Society

The Economic Value of Bilingualism among 1.5- and Second-Generation Korean Americans*

Academic journal article Development and Society

The Economic Value of Bilingualism among 1.5- and Second-Generation Korean Americans*

Article excerpt

This study examines whether there is an earnings premium for fluent bilingualism among 1.5-generation and U.S.-born Korean Americans in the labor market. The data come from the 2009-2011 American Community Surveys, and the sample is restricted to wage and salary workers. Logged annual wage and salary income was regressed on two dummy variables for bilingual competence-bilingual with fluent English proficiency and bilingual with limited English proficiency (English monolingual as reference category), controlling for indicators of human capital and the language-use environment. Findings show greater economic returns to fluent bilingualism among 1.5-generation Korean women and U.S.-born Korean men, but there is no convincing evidence of a wage premium for fluent bilingualism among U.S.-born Korean women. Surprisingly, there is evidence of wage penalties for fluent bilingualism among 1.5-generation Korean men in certain geographic areas and occupations. These mixed findings are consistent with the recent discussion of bilingualism as both human capital and ethnicity.

Keywords: Bilingualism, Earnings, Korean American, Generation, Gender

Introduction

There has been much controversy over the economic value of bilingualism among the adult children of new immigrants in U.S. labor markets. Some studies have asserted that the 1.5- and second-generation bilingual descendants of new immigrants earn more than their English monolingual counterparts (Cortina, de la Garza, and Pinto 2007; Saiz and Zoido 2005). However, others have found no evidence of higher economic returns to bilingualism (Fry and Lowell 2003; Shin and Alba 2009). Some bilingual groups were even found to face a wage penalty (Chiswick and Miller 2007). Besides these mixed findings, the competing theoretical explanations for the role of bilingual ability in the labor market are documented in the literature. Some researchers view language ability as a productive resource that can be translated into labor market outcomes (Chiswick and Miller 2007). Others, however, consider language as an element of ethnicity that is not always functional in the labor market (Pendakur and Pendakur 2002).

Despite these heated debates over the past decades, however, 1.5- and second-generation Korean Americans have seldom been the centerpiece of research into the economic value of bilingualism. There are only a few notable exceptions in the literature, including Oh and Min (2011) and Shin and Alba (2009). Therefore, relatively little is known about the economic benefits to fluent bilinguals among 1.5-generation and U.S.-born Korean Americans in the labor market. This study is intended to fill this gap in the literature.

The primary purpose of this study is to examine whether there is an earnings premium for fluent bilingualism among 1.5-generation and U. S.-born Korean Americans, using data from 2009-2011 American Community Surveys. Given the mixed findings and competing theoretical explanations in the literature, this study poses further empirical questions: To what extent and under what circumstances would bilingual ability provide a competitive edge over English monolingualism in the labor market? To address these questions in context, this paper starts with a review of the debates on the economic value of bilingualism, and compares the competing theoretical explanations developed in the literature. And then it describes the data and methods before discussing the main findings.

Debates on the Economic Value of Bilingualism

Controversies over the Economic Value of Bilingualism

Past studies have found cognitive development and educational performance as the major benefits of bilingualism (Portes and Rivas 2011). There is compelling evidence that fluent bilingualism is associated with cognitive development (Peal and Lambert 1962; Hakuta 1986). In addition, several studies show that youths fluent in both English and their mother tongue have higher academic performance than those who speak limited English or only English (Feliciano 2001; Lutz and Crist 2009). …

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