Jörg Dollmann, Irena Kogan, Markus Weißmann
When your accent betrays you: the role of foreign accents in school-to-work transition of ethnic minority youth in Germany

Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 2024: 50, issue 12, pp. 2943-2986
ISSN: 1369-183X (print), 1469-9451 (online)

Given the challenges immigrants and their descendants face in entering the labour market, we add to the existing literature by considering a previously neglected explanation: a foreign accent. Using unique data with objective accent measures from the Children of Immigrants Longitudinal Survey in Four European Countries (CILS4EU), we first establish whether foreign-accent effects could be found in a non-experimental setting. Second, we seek to disentangle the accent effect by human capital, signalling, and discrimination approaches. Finally, we explore the extent to which employment and educational paths of accented speakers reflect their self-selection into the fields of study that lead to occupations for which accented speech is not a precondition. Our findings demonstrate that respondents with a stronger foreign accent are more likely to be found in occupations for which language skills are less essential. This is in line with the human-capital explanation. Self-selection tendencies might also be present, even though the findings are equivocal. Our analyses lend no support to the statistical discrimination explanation, as employers’ perceptions of foreign accents do not vary according to the extent of their contact with accented speakers at work or at home.