Language proficiency, income and unemployment among Russian-speakers: why are language skills more important for women?


Ott Toomet

The present article analysis the correlation of proficiency in Estonian and the unemployment and incomes of Russian-speakers from the perspective of gender. The article is based on the data of the Estonian labour force surveys from 2000-2010. The most important characteristics of the analysis are status on the labour market (only employed and unemployed will be studied), pay in the principal job, ethnicity and proficiency in Estonian (the last two are based on the self-evaluation of the respondents). The analysis touches on the correlation between proficiency in Estonian and proficiency in English. The results show that non-Estonian women who are proficient in Estonian have about 8-10% higher salaries than women who speak no Estonian. There is practically no difference in the case of men. Proficiency in English results in 10-15% higher pay among women, 25% higher pay among men. The results are quite different in the case of unemployment. Both among men and women proficiency in Estonian correlates with a lower likelihood of unemployment: the likelihood that non-Estonians proficient in Estonian are unemployed is 4% lower than people without Estonian skills. There is no significant correlation between proficiency in English and unemployment. The results suggest that English plays an important role in higher-paid positions, while Estonian is relevant in positions that are most likely to be vulnerable to unemployment. The Integration Monitoring from 2008 demonstrated that men are more likely to work in positions where Estonian is not needed and where some other language is used to communicate with one’s colleagues. This could be one of the explanations to why there is no correlation between proficiency in Estonian and pay among men.