WageIndicator-data Shows the Way to Higher Pay: Learn English

By Brian Fabo, Researcher Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS), Brussels & Research Affiliate Central European Labour Studies  Institute (CELSI), Bratislava

The Visegrad-group countries, which includes the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia along with Poland, are often quoted as success stories in the Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) region. Another common aspect of these economies is that, with the exception of sizeable Poland, these are all small and extremely open economies, strongly embedded in the global markets.

Nonetheless, these countries are lagging behind in terms of language knowledge, particularly when the lingua franca of global capitalism is concerned i.e. English. According to the Eurobarometer-survey only 27% of Czechs, 26% of Slovaks and 20% of Hungarians think they speak English well enough to be able to have a conversation in English. Meanwhile, 90% of Dutchmen, 56% of Germans and even 39% of Frenchmen, a country hardly known for openness towards the English language, consider their English sufficient.

The gap between the global nature of the economies of these countries and the inability of locals to communicate with foreigners is also reflected on the labor market. Employers overwhelmingly stress their need for English speaking employees. In June 2015 39% of job adverts posted on the leading Hungarian job portal profession.hu, 49% of job adverts posted on the main Slovak job portal profesia.sk, and 58% of ads posted on the most prominent Czech job portal jobs.cz explicitly required the candidate to speak English. 

English Opens Doors

So how to make the Czechs, Hungarians and Slovaks learn English? One way might be to show them how command of English can open the door towards better paying jobs. The WageIndicator data, based on a continuous, voluntary web-survey and the data entered by users of the Salary Check web app, makes this possible because they contain information on wages at the occupation level in 85 countries around the world, including all EU-member states.

A strong correlation between gross monthly wage in 26 common occupations and share of ads requiring English has been identified in all 3 analysed countries. This result suggests that knowledge of English is a precondition to access better paying jobs.

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While Czechs, Hungarians and Slovaks are successful in terms of GDP-convergence with the Western European standards, they remain relatively poor. An important factor here is that the ration between wages and GDP is much lower than in the Western European countries.

English Raises Pay

The literature connects this phenomenon with poorly developed industrial relations mechanisms and a low share of highly sophisticated activities in the economy. WageIndicator data show another possible way out   - by becoming more proficient in English, the inhabitants of these countries would find it easier to access better paying jobs, thus limiting the supply of labor willing to take poorly paid jobs, which brings the overall wage level up.

The high level of consistency in results between the 3 countries suggests that these results are quite robust, though extension of coverage of other countries and more sophisticated statistical techniques are needed to determine the actual role of languages in the labour markets across Europe. 


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