Tallinn University of Technology

A doctoral thesis defended in early March at TalTech explored how language skills affect employability. The research conducted for the thesis written by Svetlana Ridala showed that the positive impact of language skills on job-finding success differs between native speakers of Estonian and native speakers of Russian. Differences were also found to exist between male and female job seekers.

Svitlana Ridala doktoritöö kaitsmine

The thesis demonstrated that, in general, language skills have a positive effect on employability, i.e. people with better language skills have a better chance of finding a job and earning a higher salary.

However, the research also showed that the positive effects of language skills on job-finding success and on salaries differ between native Estonian and Russian speakers of working age in Estonia, and that differences additionally exist across gender lines.

For example, for Russian-speaking women who participate in the Estonian labour market, knowledge of the Estonian language affects salaries more significantly than for Russian-speaking men.

Outside of gender, for Estonian speakers, the probability of finding employment depends largely on knowledge of English, but not of Russian. For Russian speakers, meanwhile, job-finding success is tied primarily to knowledge of Estonian and not so much to knowledge of English.

Put simply, this suggests that a number of integration policy-related challenges continue to persist in Estonia, which, among other things, are connected to the occupational segregation of Estonian speakers and Russian speakers of working age, i.e. the over-representation of Estonian-speaking workers in some occupations and of Russian-speaking workers in others.

The wider aim of Svetlana Ridala’s PhD thesis was to investigate which factors relating to linguistic environments, local socio-economic development, global trends, and research methods influence the findings published in international research papers about the effect of language skills on labour market outcomes.

According to Ridala’s analysis, the effect is positive if the language is globally influential and if the local economy and labour market are well advanced.

In multilingual societies, local languages are also more valued alongside English, which is currently the predominant international working language.

Svetlana Ridala’s research provides important takeaways both for the scientific community and policymakers.

Namely, policymakers should direct greater efforts towards making labour markets more cohesive, so that speakers of different languages would be able to secure greater and more diverse employment.

Meanwhile, the scientific community should consider – alongside labour market data – data collection methods with greater care, in order to allow for more accurate assessment of language proficiency levels and the related economic impacts.

Svetlana Ridala was awarded a PhD in economics on 4 March, when she successfully defended her doctoral thesis on the impacts of language skills on labour market outcomes at the Department of Economics and Finance of TalTech.

The opponents at the defence were Professor David Bivin (IUPUI, USA) and Professor Michiru Nagatsu (University of Helsinki, Finland). The supervisors of Ridala’s thesis were Professor Kadri Männasoo (TalTech), Ott-Siim Toomet, PhD (Washington University, USA), and Associate Professor Ants Aasma (TalTech).

Svetlana Ridala’s doctoral thesis is titled ‘Essays on Language Skills and Labour Market Outcomes’, and the full text is available here. The research conducted for the thesis was connected to a number of ongoing research projects and the project received funding from the Erasmus+ Programme of the European Union [Project No. 611059-EPP-1-2019-1-EE-EPPJMO-MODULE] as well as from the Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme [under Grant Agreement No. 952574] ‘Individual Behaviour and Economic Performance: Methodological Challenges and Institutional Context’.