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The impact of foreign language skills on migration and labor market dynamics

with Oscar Gálvez-Soriano

In the early 1990s, six Mexican states offered English instruction for the first time in randomly-selected public primary schools. We evaluate the impact of these state English programs, focusing on individual labor market and migration outcomes. To do so, we use school- and individual-level data from Mexico's School and Population censuses, respectively. We link these two sources together at the municipality level and use a staggered difference-in-differences design that exploits municipality by age-cohort variation in exposure to English instruction for identification. Our results show that exposure to English instruction in childhood increases the likelihood of earning higher wages and participating in formal employment, particularly among women and highly educated workers. We also find that exposure to English instruction influences migration patterns, shaping both the migration decision and destination choice. However, these effects vary significantly by sex, with women migrating more and to a more diversified mix of destination countries than men. These results suggest that an improvement in foreign language skills can contribute to the empowerment of women in the labor markets, while also inducing a female "brain drain."

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