Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)



Committee Chair/Advisor

Devon Merritt Haskell Gorry

Committee Member

Babur De Los Santos

Committee Member

Frederick Hanssen


This paper uses pooled cross-sectional data from the General Social Survey to analyze the economic returns of bilingualism to adults in the U.S labor market. Bilingualism in the US is defined as English proficient individuals who also report speaking a foreign language “very well” or “well”. Using OLS Least Squares regression estimation where the dependent variable is the logarithm of earnings, I modify the Mincer earnings function to include foreign language skill variables and controls for observed demographic characteristics. Holding all levels of human capital constant, bilinguals earn 7.7% less than English monolinguals in the U.S labor market; however, this earnings differential is subject to the considerable variation in earnings depending on the 2nd language spoken. When dividing bilinguals into two linguistic groups, Spanish and non-Spanish bilinguals, Spanish bilingualism is correlated with lower overall earnings than English monolinguals, and non-Spanish bilingualism is correlated with higher average earnings than English monolinguals overall. Once controlling for all human capital characteristics, non-Spanish bilinguals are associated with 9% lower earnings while the association between Spanish bilinguals was insignificant. The economic returns to bilingualism can vary depending on the occupational sector or prestige level. Non-Spanish bilingualism is associated with higher earnings in healthcare occupations and in high prestige occupations compared to English monolinguals within these occupations.



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