Language and Capital in Multilingual Switzerland

Publication type

Conference Paper


September Stratification and Inequality Conference


Publication date

September 11, 2003


This paper uses the 1999 wave of the Swiss Household Panel study to examine the impact of first language on social, cultural, and human capital. Drawing upon previous research which has identified a 'language penalty' for minority language speakers in multilingual countries, we aim to examine whether this relationship holds true in Switzerland, and more importantly, to examine the mechanism through which stratification operates. We look at language as a determinant of social and cultural capital for Switzerland as a whole, as well as by language dominant regions. We find evidence of differential investment in social and cultural capital by language group. We then examine the impact of language on human capital, which we conceptualise as earnings potential. The effects for both Switzerland as a whole and by language region suggest that first language, independent of social and cultural capital investments, still has a direct impact on human capital. The effect, however, is non-existent in the more heterogeneous region, suggesting that heterogeneity reduces barriers to the acquisition of human capital.

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