Language-based discrimination and its role for ethnic inequalities in the educational system and the labor market

Faculty/Professorship: Social Structure Analysis  ; Fakultät Sozial- und Wirtschaftswissenschaften: Abschlussarbeiten 
Author(s): Schmaus, Miriam  
Corporate Body: Otto-Friedrich-Universität Bamberg
Publisher Information: Bamberg : Otto-Friedrich-Universität
Year of publication: 2020
Pages: 112 ; Illustrationen, Diagramme
Supervisor(s): Kristen, Cornelia  ; Platt, Lucinda; Schindler, Steffen  
Year of first publication: 2018
Language(s): English
Kumulative Dissertation, Otto-Friedrich-Universität Bamberg, 2018
DOI: 10.20378/irb-46949
Licence: German Act on Copyright 
URN: urn:nbn:de:bvb:473-irb-469492
Proficiency in a host country language (L2) is crucial to immigrants’ structural integration into ‘core’ societal institutions, such as the education system and the labor market. In addition to being a valuable resource that shapes productivity or facilitates communication, language proficiency can also have a symbolic effect. For immigrants, a low proficiency in the host country language can signal a low affiliation with the host society, highlight their ethnic origin and increase the perception of ‘foreignness’. In addition, it can obscure the observability of relevant attributes, such as competences or attitudes, generating information deficits on whether less proficient immigrants do (not) possess certain traits, or if the lower language skills simply do not permit their identification. Against this background, lower L2 proficiency can be associated with different forms of discrimination.
This dissertation addresses such processes on the labor market and in the education system within three separate studies. Regarding language-based discrimination on the labor market, I drew upon data from the National Educational Panel Study (Contribution 1) and examined whether immigrant groups associated with unfavorable attitudes receive lower returns to lower German language skills than groups facing more positive attitudes or the native population, and how large these discounts may be. I also investigated whether the size of these discounts varies with the amount of information available to employers to distinguish between different types of discrimination. Findings indicated that ‘unpopular’ immigrant groups receive discounts to lower L2 proficiency, irrespective of the amount of information available to employers. This was taken as an indication that, in addition to affecting employees’ productivity, lower L2 proficiency might also be associated with taste-based forms of discrimination.
As the first contribution allowed only indirect inferences on the occurrence and roots of language-based discrimination, the second contribution took a more direct approach. It focused on a salient language cue, namely a foreign accent, and attempted to assess how it affects the labor market prospects of immigrants in Germany within a field experimental framework. In this design fictitious applicants (tester) called employers to ask about the availability of advertised positions. Applicants’ accents (Turkish, Standard German) and names (Turkish, German) were varied, information on job and firm characteristics was logged. In addition, context data from the Federal Employment Agency and the German General Survey was merged to the experimental set. Findings indicated that foreign-accented applicants were turned down more often than German jobseekers and accent-free applicants of the same origin. Here, too the reasons behind this disadvantage seemed to be linked to employer tastes.
With regard to education, I examined only one outcome, namely the identification of special educational needs. More concretely, I examined how proficiency in the language of instruction relates to the identification of special educational needs (SEN) for language minority children in England (Contribution 3). Employing data from the Millennium-Cohort-Study, I examined if lower proficiency in the language of instruction fosters misidentification of special educational needs and if this affects all language minority students or only specific ethnic groups. I also examined how misidentification upon school entry affects children’s competences at the end of primary school. Results indicated that most minority children were more likely to be accurately identified when their English proficiency was low. For black children however, limited proficiency was associated with an over identification of behavioral needs.
Overall, this dissertation has two main implications. One the one hand, it highlights the necessity to examine divergent processes between natives and different immigrant groups when linking resources to outcomes in theoretical and empirical specifications. On the other hand, it shifts the focus to the cues that trigger ethnic discrimination, suggesting future research avenues to examine the individual and combined effect of different ethnicity indications for immigrants’ (structural) integration.
GND Keywords: Einwanderer; Sprachfertigkeit; Diskriminierung; Bildungssystem; Arbeitsmarkt
Keywords: ethnic inequalities, immigrant integration, language proficiency, discrimination, field experiment
DDC Classification: 300 Social sciences, sociology & anthropology  
RVK Classification: MS 3300   
Type: Doctoralthesis
Release Date: 7. April 2020

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