Restoring culture and capital to cultural capital: origin–destination cultural distance and immigrant earnings in the United States

Qian He, Theodore P. Gerber, Yu Xie

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

An extensive sociological literature maintains that cultural capital is pivotal in perpetuating social inequalities. However, empirical tests of cultural capital theory focus on how culture influences educational outcomes, not earnings, and they mainly look for cultural differences across social classes within societies. We propose a direct test of economic returns to cultural capital based instead on differences in national cultures across countries. Using the American Community Survey and the National Survey of College Graduates, we analyze the relationship between immigrants’ lack of U.S.-specific cultural capital, proxied by cultural distance between the origin country and the U.S., and their earnings. Findings consistently indicate that origin–U.S. cultural distance is linked to immigrants’ lower earnings after controlling for numerous other factors, supporting cultural capital theory. Cultural distance earnings penalties are more pronounced for immigrants with at least a bachelor’s degree, those arriving in adulthood, and those with foreign degrees. Moreover, county-level analysis reveals more sizable cultural distance penalties in more competitive and unequal labour markets, highlighting how subnational receiving contexts shape origin-country disparities in immigrants’ economic incorporation at their destinations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalJournal of Ethnic and Migration Studies
DOIs
StateAccepted/In press - 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Demography
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)

Keywords

  • contexts of reception
  • cultural capital
  • Immigrant economic incorporation
  • place of education
  • returns to education

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