The Adult and Life Skills (ALL) Survey an Analysis: The effect of first language and education on literacy, employment and income

Publication Details

The report uses data from the 2006 Adult Literacy and Life Skills (ALL) survey to look at New Zealanders who have English as an additional language. It explores their literacy and numeracy skills and educational qualifications and the effect of having English as an additional language on employment and income opportunities.

Author(s): David Earle, Tertiary Sector Performance Analysis and Reporting, Ministry of Education.

Date Published: September 2009

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This report is available as a download (please refer to the 'Downloads' inset box).  To view the individual chapters please refer to the 'Sections' inset box.  For links to related publications/ information that may be of interest please refer to the 'Where to Find Out More' inset box.

Section 1: Summary

Key Findings
In 2006, 17 percent of New Zealanders aged 25 to 65 (362,000) had learnt English as an additional language.
 

This research finds that people with English as an additional language face barriers to employment and higher incomes, over and above those related to English-based literacy and numeracy, and qualifications. It also supports earlier research that found that difficulties with the recognition of overseas qualifications are a barrier for immigrants from non-English speaking backgrounds. However, it also shows that having some educational experience in New Zealand can significantly improve English-based literacy and numeracy, which in turn can improve employment and income opportunities.

The main findings from this research are that New Zealanders with English as an additional language are:

  • more likely to have lower English-based literacy and numeracy than other New Zealanders, but are more likely to hold a bachelors degree or postgraduate qualification.
  • likely to face barriers to obtaining employment, irrespective of qualifications and English-based literacy and numeracy. 
  • more likely to have lower wages and incomes than people with English as a first language, even after accounting for differences in qualifications and English-based literacy and numeracy
  • likely to get little or no additional income benefit from holding a degree or postgraduate qualification, even after accounting for differences in English-based literacy and numeracy.

It is not possible from the ALL survey data to comment on the extent to which these effects change according to how long a person has been in New Zealand.


In 2006, 17 percent of New Zealanders aged 25 to 65 had learnt English as an additional language. This represents 362,000 people. More than half of this group had arrived in New Zealand in the previous 10 years. Eleven percent were born in New Zealand.

Previous research shows that immigrants from non-English-speaking backgrounds were disadvantaged in New Zealand in terms of employment and income. This disadvantage persisted even once qualifications were taken into account. For migrants from the Pacific, this disadvantage does not disappear according to the length of time spent in New Zealand.

The Adult Literacy and Life Skills (ALL) survey provides a new information source to explore the skills, employment and income of people with English as an additional language in New Zealand. It provides two new areas of information which were not available in the previous research. First, it provides information about the assessed English-based literacy and numeracy of respondents. This allows exploration of how important competency in English is to employment and income. It also includes information on the first language spoken by respondents. This allows exploration of whether having English as an additional language affects employment and income outcomes, over and above English-based literacy and numeracy skills.

Education and skills

The ALL survey shows that New Zealanders with English as an additional language were likely to have lower English-based literacy and numeracy than New Zealanders with English as a first language.

However, New Zealanders with English as an additional language were more likely to hold a bachelors degree or postgraduate qualification than New Zealanders with English as a first language.

After controlling for other differences:

  • having undertaken some or all of their education in New Zealand improved the English-based literacy and numeracy of people with English as an additional language
  • the largest gaps in literacy and numeracy between people with and without English as a first language were for people with no tertiary qualifications and for people with degrees
  • people with a non-European language as their first language had lower literacy and numeracy than those with a European language as their first language.

Employment

People with English as an additional language were:

  • less likely to participate in the labour force, even once their English-based literacy or numeracy and qualifications were taken into account
  • more likely to be unemployed, irrespective of qualification level and even once their English-based literacy or numeracy was taken into account.

These findings confirm findings from earlier research that having English as an additional language is a barrier to obtaining employment, even when people have acceptable levels of English-based literacy and numeracy and the required level of qualification.

People with English as an additional language who were in employment, having taken account of qualifications and English-based literacy and numeracy, and comparing them with people with English as a first language, were:

  • equally likely to be self-employed, rather working for an employer
  • more likely to be working full-time for an employer rather than part-time for an employer
  • equally likely to work in a skilled job, when compared on their prose literacy skills, but less likely to be in a skilled job when compared on their numeracy skills.

These findings suggest that for those who had gained employment, differences in type of employment were mostly due to differences in qualifications and English-based literacy and numeracy, rather than whether English was their first language per se.

Income

People with English as an additional language were more likely to have lower hourly wages, lower total personal income and lower equivalent household income than people with English as a first language.

After controlling for prose literacy and other factors, people with English as an additional language got little or no additional benefit in income from holding a degree or postgraduate qualification. The disparity in income between those with English as an additional language and those with English as a first language was most marked for people with postgraduate qualifications.

These findings suggest that even after taking into account differences in English-based literacy, people with English as an additional language get less economic return from higher qualifications than those with English as a first language. This may be related to difficulties in getting higher-level tertiary qualifications attained overseas recognised for jobs in New Zealand.

Region of first language

People with a non-European language as their first language had lower literacy and numeracy skills than those with a European language as their first language. Once English-based literacy and numeracy and qualifications were taken into account, the region of first language did not have any statistically significant effect on employment outcomes. The region of first language did have an effect on income, even after literacy or numeracy and qualifications were controlled for. In particular, people whose first language was a South-East or East Asian language had much lower wages, total income and household income.

Country of education

Previous research suggests that a lack of New Zealand educational qualifications is a barrier to employment for people with English as an additional language. This analysis found that having undertaken some or all education in New Zealand was related to higher levels of prose literacy and numeracy for people with English as an additional language. However, once English-based literacy or numeracy were controlled for, country of education did not have an effect on employment outcomes or on hourly wages or personal income. This suggests that the value of New Zealand educational experience is to raise the English-based literacy or numeracy, which in turn improves the chances of finding work and having a higher income.

The ALL survey only provides limited information on the country of education. As noted earlier, difficulties in getting higher-level tertiary qualifications attained overseas recognised for jobs in New Zealand may be a contributing factor to the lower incomes of tertiary qualified people with English as an additional language.

Period of time in New Zealand

Previous research has shown that immigrants face an initial income and employment disadvantage when they first arrive in New Zealand and that this disappears over a period of time. The previous research suggests that it may take longer for this disadvantage to disappear for immigrants from non-English-speaking countries and it may never disappear for immigrants from the Pacific.

It is reasonable to assume that time spent in New Zealand will lead to improved English-based literacy and numeracy, which in turn will improve employment and income opportunities. However, it is not possible to examine this question using the data in the ALL survey as it looks at the population at one point in time. The length of time that people have spent in New Zealand is confounded by age, age at arrival and the immigration policy settings at the time they arrived.

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