This study examines whether there is an earnings premium for fluent bilingualism among 1.5-generation and U.S.-born Korean Americans in the labor market. The data come from the 2009-2011 American Community Surveys, and the sample is restricted to wage and salary workers. Logged annual wage and salary income was regressed on two dummy variables for bilingual competence—bilingual with fluent English proficiency and bilingual with limited English proficiency (English monolingual as reference category), controlling for indicators of human capital and the language-use environment. Findings show greater economic returns to fluent bilingualism among 1.5-generation Korean women and U.S.-born Korean men, but there is no convincing evidence of a wage premium for fluent bilingualism among U.S.-born Korean women. Surprisingly, there is evidence of wage penalties for fluent bilingualism among 1.5-generation Korean men in certain geographic areas and occupations. These mixed findings are consistent with the recent discussion of bilingualism as both human capital and ethnicity.
Key Words: Bilingualism, Earnings, Korean American, Generation, Gender
*This paper was originally presented at the Fourth Annual Conference of the Research Center for Korean Community at Queens College, which was held at Queens College on April 5-7, 2013. This paper was also published in Development and Society, Volume 42, Number One, June 2013. We would like to thank Development and Society for allowing us to repost this article.