Victor Gay, Daniel Hicks, Estefania Santacreu-Vasut, 10 September 2016

Evidence suggests that many forms of gender inequality are higher in countries where the language distinguishes gender. But these patterns could arise spuriously, as languages and other cultural institutions have co-evolved throughout history. This column uses an epidemiological approach to isolate language from other cultural forces and provide direct evidence on whether language matters. The findings suggest how gender roles have been shaped, how they are perpetuated, and, ultimately, how they can be changed.

Rajesh Ramachandran, 11 July 2016

In this video, Rajesh Ramachandran discusses the effects of teaching in a colonial language in sub-Saharan countries. The research shows that teaching in a colonial language actually worsens educational attainments. This video was recorded during a UNU-WIDER conference on “Human capital and growth” held in June 2016.  

Yuxin Yao, Asako Ohinata, Jan van Ours, 09 May 2016

Language skills play an important role in labour market performance. This column uses evidence from the Netherlands to assess whether speaking a dialect affects a child’s educational performance. It finds that speaking Dutch dialects affects the academic performance of some young children. While it has a modestly negative effect on boys' language test scores, there is no effect on language tests for girls. Dialect-speaking does not affect scores in maths tests. The share of dialect-speaking peers in the classroom does not affect the test scores of either Dutch-speaking children or dialect-speaking children.

Enrico Spolaore, Romain Wacziarg, 27 June 2015

Cultural transmission occurs both vertically – from one generation to the next – and, increasingly in modern times, horizontally – within generations and across populations. Using novel data for 74 countries, this column explores how genetic relatedness between populations affects the transmission of cultural traits. A pattern of positive and significant relationships is found between genetic distance and various measures of cultural distance, including language, religion, values, and norms. This implies that populations that are ancestrally closer face lower barriers to learning new ideas and behaviours from each other.

Irma Clots-Figueras, Paolo Masella, 03 March 2014

Language is not only a tool of communication but also of empowerment and cultural identity. This column presents evidence that mandatory instruction in Catalan strengthened perceptions of regional identity and boosted political support for Catalanist parties. This evidence of the efficacy of multiculturalist policy should instruct policymakers in ethnically diverse societies.

Victor Gay, Estefania Santacreu-Vasut, Amir Shoham, 29 August 2012

Gender discrimination varies vastly across nations – an outcome that most would ascribe at least partly to culture. If culture is transmitted via language, as Douglas North asserts, grammar difference should line up with gender discrimination. This column presents new empirical evidence that gender distinctions in language are strongly correlated with female labour-force participation and the use of gender political quotas.

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