The Columns

Professor Shows Relationship Between Lower Wages and Poor English is Larger than Previously Shown

— by on September 1st, 2008

Arthur H. Goldsmith, Jackson T. Stephens Professor of Economics at W&L, has co-authored an article on “Measuring the Wage Costs of Limited English” which was published in the August issue of the Hispanic Journal of Behavioral Science.

Goldsmith writes that previous scholarly research that showed poor English-language skills equate to lower wages, may not be accurate because it relied on the workers rating their own English fluency. However, when an interviewer rates a worker’s English fluency, that rating is far more likely to be closer to how an employer, co-worker and society in general would assess a worker’s fluency.

Therefore, using both self and interviewer reports of English proficiency, Goldsmith assessed the link between wages and English fluency for workers with Mexican ancestry in the Los Angeles Metropolitan area.

He found that the wage penalty associated with poorer English fluency is greater when interviewer ratings of English proficiency are used. Thus, the cost to workers of poor spoken English ability is larger than the previous research showed. The research also showed that women with poor language skills receive lower wages than their male counterparts with similar English limitations.