The Role of Language in Shaping International Migration: Evidence from OECD Countries 1980-2010

Alicia Adsera, Princeton University
Mariola Pytlikova, Aarhus University

Previous literature shows that fluency in destination country’s language and/or widely spoken languages plays a key role in the transfer of human capital from the source to another country and boosts the immigrant’s success at destination. The ability to acquire and speak a foreign language seems an important factor in the decision to migrate. This paper analyzes the role of language in shaping international migration using data on immigration flows and stocks of foreigners in 30 OECD destinations from 224 source countries for the years 1980–2010. First, in addition to standard covariates from gravity models, we include a newly constructed linguistic proximity index based on Ethnologue and two linguistic distance indices from linguists. Second, we examine the role of English. Finally, we include indices on the diversity of languages spoken in both source and destination countries to proxy for the “potential” ease to learn a new language and of adaptation.

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Presented in Session 139: New Migrants in Europe