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Language, Education, and the Socioeconomic Achievement of Hispanic Origin Men

Publication Abstract

Tienda, Marta, and Lisa Neidert. 1984. "Language, Education, and the Socioeconomic Achievement of Hispanic Origin Men." Social Science Quarterly, 65 519-536.

The influence of language use patterns on the occupational achievements of Hispanic working age men is examined to determine how Spanish-English bilingualism and English proficiency influence socioeconomic status. Using the 1976 Survey of Income and Education, a sample of Hispanic origin men aged 18-64 were chosen to study the relationship between education, bilingualism, English proficiency, and occupational status. The survey studied 4 nationality groups: 1) Mexican, 2) Puerto Rican, 3) Central/South American, and 4) Other Spanish. Of all the groups, foreign born Mexicans are most handicapped in their English speaking and comprehension skills; the other 3 groups are about equally situated in their bilingualism. Results show that: 1) individuals most proficient in English have higher average status levels; 2) the importance of schooling in determining the occupational achievements of Hispanic origin men, and therefore, their socioeconomic status, is dramatic; and 3) although English proficiency exerts an independent effect on the status achievements of 2 of the 4 groups, this effect is relatively small in comparison to that of education. The estimation of the influence of language on occupational achievement between native and foreign born men of each nationality reveals that retention of Spanish generally does not hinder the socioeconomic achievements of Hispanic origin men, provided that they acquire a minimum education and English proficiency; foreign born Mexicans and Puerto Ricans are the exception to this pattern, because they are penalized in terms of status if they speak no English. Overall, the influence of language on adult socioeconomic status is largely mediated by schooling. This suggests that foreign born workers can improve their occupational status by participating in bilingual education programs, which does not force the loss of native languages; this will balance the pressures of assimilation and ethnic pluralism.

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