Residents of Catalonia who were educated in two languages at school later out-earned their peers whose lessons were only Spanish, according to research by Lorenzo Cappellari and Antonio Di Paolo, to be presented at the Royal Economic Society''s annual conference at the University of Bristol in April 2017.
Their study examines the effect of the Language Normalization Act of 1983 in the Spanish region of Catalonia, which added the previously banned Catalan language to Spanish as language of instruction in schools. The authors investigate the returns to education for pupils educated in both languages, and compare them with the returns to learning only in Spanish.
Each additional year of Spanish-only schooling raised earnings by 5.8%, but for Spanish-Catalan schooling this figure is 6.9%. The effect of bilingual education is particularly strong in the early years, and among children whose families speak only Spanish.
The authors conclude: ''Our research suggests that policies that introduce bilingualism at school have a positive value in the labour market. This is in part because they favour the acquisition of bilingual skills that are themselves an economic asset, but also because they may level the playing field in bilingual labour markets.''
What is the economic value of bilingual education? Bilingualism at school is becoming increasingly popular among families and is attracting growing attention from educationalists.
Research in cognitive psychology shows that bilingualism has positive impacts on several dimensions of cognition, including a reduction in the rate of skill depletion in the adult population, and its positive impacts are even stronger when exposure to bilingualism occurs during the childhood. The evidence on educational outcome is still mixed, but points to the fact that receiving bilingual education is generally not harmful for educational achievements.
In this paper, we provide new evidence on the effects of bilingual schooling on earnings and other labour market outcomes. Indeed, this is the first paper that quantifies the economic value of bilingualism at school.
We consider the Spanish region of Catalonia and the ''natural experiment'' that took place in 1983, when the ''Language Normalization Act (LNA)'' added Catalan to Spanish as the language of instruction in schools.
The use of Catalan had been prohibited during the Franco''s dictatorship (1939-75), and the LNA was explicitly aimed at guaranteeing bilingualism in compulsory education, in a context in which a substantial fraction of inhabitants of Catalonia (namely first and second generation migrants from other mono-lingual Spanish regions) had limited or no knowledge of Catalan.
The case of Catalonia is especially interesting, because the universal coverage of the reform that affected all school-age children at the time makes its possible to obtain estimates that can be interpreted as causal effects. We find that while each additional year of Spanish-only schooling raises earnings by 5.8%, the yearly earnings return to Spanish-Catalan schooling reaches 6.9%, a wage premium of 1.1 percentage points per year of bilingual education.
The positive impact of bilingualism at school appears to be higher for earlier years of exposure (that is, the sooner the better) and is mostly generated when children are exposed to bilingualism during compulsory schooling. This is consistent with evidence from cognitive psychology, as well as with the so-called ''critical age period'' for language acquisition.
We also find that the introduction of bilingualism at school was more beneficial for individuals with Spanish origins (those with parents born outside Catalonia) and native Spanish speakers, the main target of the LNA reform, who received a higher return to bilingual education.
This is mostly because being exposed to another language at school made them bilingual (whereas native Catalan speakers are bilingual from several generations) and this fostered even more the positive reward to bilingualism at school.
Overall, our research suggests that policies that introduce bilingualism at school have a positive value in the labour market, in part because they favour the acquisition of bilingual skills that are themselves an economic asset, but also because they may level the playing field in bilingual labour markets.
Bilingual Schooling and Earnings: Evidence from a Language-in-Education Reform