Harald Beier, Clemens Kroneberg
Language Boundaries and the Subjective Well-Being of Immigrants in Europe

Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 2013: 39, Heft 10, S. 1535-1553
ISSN: 1369-183X (print), 1469-9451 (online)

This study contributes to the growing literature on social and ethnic boundaries by tracing the impact of symbolic language boundaries in 20 European countries. Using data from the 2002–03 wave of the European Social Survey, we show that the language boundaries drawn in different host societies affect the subjective well-being of first and second-generation immigrants. Confirming theoretical expectations, we find that symbolic boundaries only influence those individuals with limited proficiency in the majority language. Moreover, applying a distinction from theories of ethnic boundary making, we show that it is primarily the contestedness of language boundaries within a society, rather than their strength, that influences subjective well-being. This finding provides indirect evidence for a major hypothesis: that disagreement over the social location of ethnic boundaries will make them politically salient; this, in turn, affects the well-being of individuals whose status is at stake.