In addition to economic determinants in line with neoclassical economics and the “human capital investment” framework, a number of non-economic factors are also relevant to explain migration decisions. Beside classic factors such as “love and wars”, these include random events such as environment and climate shocks, migrant networks, language and aspects of “cultural distance”. In that regard, the more “foreign” or distant the new culture and the larger the language barriers, the higher the costs are for an individual to migrate to a particular destination. Fluency in destination country’s language and/or widely spoken languages (or ease to quickly learn it) plays a key role in the transfer of human capital from the source country to another country and boosts the immigrant’s success at the destination’s labor market. We use data on immigration flows and stocks of foreigners in 27 OECD destination countries from 130 source countries for the years 1985–2006 to study the role of language in shaping international migration. In addition to standard covariates from gravity models, we include a set of indices of language proximity to study their association to the observed flows: (1) a newly constructed index that measures the proximity between the family of languages of destination and source country based on Ethnologue and the linguistic proximity measure proposed by Dyen between pairs of languages; (2) indices on the number, diversity and polarization of languages spoken in both source and destination country, to proxy for the “potential” ease to learn a new language and of adaptation; (3) measures of the diversity of the existing stock and flows of migrants (weighted by languages).
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2010 International Symposium on Contemporary Labor Economics, 2010