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Do Linguistic Structures Affect Human Capital? The Case of Pronoun Drop

Horst Feldmann ()

Kyklos, 2019, vol. 72, issue 1, 29-54

Abstract: This paper empirically studies the human capital effects of grammatical rules that permit speakers to drop a personal pronoun when used as a subject of a sentence. By de‐emphasizing the significance of the individual, such languages may perpetuate ancient values and norms that give primacy to the collective, inducing governments and families to invest relatively little in education because education usually increases the individual's independence from both the state and the family and may thus reduce the individual's commitment to these institutions. Carrying out both an individual‐level and a country‐level analysis, the paper indeed finds negative effects of pronoun‐drop languages. The individual‐level analysis uses data on 114,894 individuals from 75 countries over 1999‐2014. It establishes that speakers of such languages have a lower probability of having completed secondary or tertiary education, compared with speakers of languages that do not allow pronoun drop. The country‐level analysis uses data from 101 countries over 1972‐2012. Consistent with the individual‐level analysis, it finds that countries where the dominant languages permit pronoun drop have lower secondary school enrollment rates. In both cases, the magnitude of the effect is substantial, particularly among females.

Date: 2019
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