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earning power

If you speak both French and English, you're likely to earn more than your unilingual counterparts, according to a new study by researchers from the University of Guelph. And depending on where you work in Canada, you don't necessarily have to use a second language on the job to reap the financial rewards; merely knowing it can translate into a higher income.

Economics professors Louis Christofides and Robert Swidinsky found that men in Quebec who can speak both official languages earn an average income 7 per cent higher than those who speak only French, and bilingual women in Quebec earn 8 per cent more.

Meanwhile, in the rest of Canada, men who know both languages earn an average income 3.8 per cent higher than those who know English only. Bilingual women earn 6.6 per cent more.

But the researchers found that the rewards for actually using both languages on the job differ based on where in the country you work.

In Quebec, men who use their second language frequently at work can earn an additional 14 per cent (on top of the 3.8 per cent) than those who speak only French, and women can earn an additional 7 per cent. In the rest of Canada, however, it makes no significant difference whether English-speaking men and women use French at work or simply know the language; the financial benefits are about the same.

Dr. Christofides, a professor emeritus at the University of Guelph and also a dean of the faculty of economics and management at the University of Cyprus, says employers may be willing to pay workers extra simply for knowing a second language because bilingualism is associated with other attributes, such as a proclivity for education, cultural sensitivity or sophistication.

"They would see a [bilingual]person who is 'able' or 'sensitive' or 'has good social skills,' " he says. And as indicated by the lack of difference between the financial benefits of using and knowing French in English-speaking provinces, "the employer doesn't care that this person doesn't speak French as well. He has no use for it. But when ... you use this marker that the individual is bilingual, this marker is going to pick up all these extra qualities that the individual has."

In Quebec, however, the substantial financial reward for actually using English on the job reflects the demand for English in the marketplace, he says, particularly in the province's major cities. Moreover, jobs in Quebec that involve international business also value English.

To reach their findings, Dr. Christofides and Dr. Swidinsky examined data from Statistics Canada's 2001 Census, which, for the first time, asked respondents not only about their knowledge of the official languages but also the languages used at work. The latter data allowed the researchers to compare people's use of bilingual skills against their income. The results are adjusted for variables such as education, experience, regional differences and type of industry.

The researchers say the findings of their study, recently published in the journal Canadian Public Policy/Analyse de Politiques, have implications for bilingual policy in Canada.

"Efforts to promote French in the ROC [rest of Canada]should be continued, not so much because of the earnings advantage that bilingualism confers, but because it results in many social/cultural/political benefits, strengthening the fabric of Canadian society and serving as an example to countries torn by ethnic, religious and linguistic divisions," the study states.

On average, "the children in Quebec who learn English will experience a lot more additional earnings than the ones in the rest of Canada," Dr. Christofides says. But "in general and on average, we don't pick up an additional reward from the use of French in the rest of Canada."

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