Translated's Research Center

Canada, be bilingual: learn and earn

Economy + Geopolitics, Language Surveys

Can being bilingual make your fortune? Yes, if you work in Canada. Imminent contributor since its birth, staff writer Emma Gamba has a degree in Politics, Philosophy and Economics and a master’s degree in Marketing, Analytics and Metrics.

Official languages in Canada

In 2011, Canadians who spoke the two official languages in Quebec had average annual incomes of approximately 37% higher than those who spoke only one official language. Similarly, in the rest of Canada, the average annual income of individuals who spoke both official languages was approximately 15% higher than that of persons who did not speak both official languages

(National Household Survey, Statistics Canada: 2011). 

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A recent Canadian study by by Zenaida R. Ravanera on Citizenship and Immigration Canada found that Francophone bilingual immigrants (first official language spoken – FOLS) outside of Quebec fare better economically than Anglophone bilingual immigrants, although they tend to be less well integrated socially. Within Quebec, the opposite was true, Anglophone bilingual immigrants fare better economically than Francophone bilingual immigrants, although they are less well integrated socially. Based purely on an analysis of supply and demand, this stands to reason, with the relative abundance of Francophones in Quebec, and of Anglophones in other parts of Canada. In other words, the relative scarcity of Francophones outside of Quebec increases their value, similarly to Anglophones within Quebec, however it also raises interesting questions regarding social integration.

Top 20 Canadian cities where bilingual candidates have a competitive advantages

RankCityProvinceRankCity Province
3MontrealQuebec13Quebec CityQuebec
4KitchenerOntario14Saint JohnNewfoundland
5FrederictonNew Brunswick15WinnipegManitoba
6HamiltonOntario16VancouverBritish Columbia
8MonctonNew Brunswick18EdmontonAlberta
9HalifaxNova Scotia 19KingstonOntario
10LondonOntario20Cornwall Ontario
Source: Workpolis 2015

Top 10 occupations in Canada where bilingual candidates have a competitive advantages

Rank OccupationFunctional area
1Billing administratorFinance/Accounts
2Collections clerkFinance/Accounts
3Financial administratorFinance/Accounts
4Technical support/Customer serviceIM/IT
5Human resources advisorHuman resources
6Marketing coordinatorSales and marketing
7Systems administratorIM/IT
8Recruitment consultantHuman resources
9Administrative assistantAdministration
10Sales representativeSales and Marketing
Source: Workpolis 2015

It seems that bilingual workers outside Quebec generate 10% of Canadian GDP outside Quebec. In addition, bilinguals generate around 20% of GDP in educational services and in public administration outside Quebec. In Canada, of the 28.6 million people aged 15 or over in 2016, some 5.4 million considered themselves bilingual. This represents nearly 19% of the working age population. Taking into consideration only those who were employed, the proportion rises to 20.4%. In other words, more than one fifth  of Canadian workers were bilingual in 2016. To no one’s surprise, a majority (60%) of bilingual Canadians live in Quebec, but bilinguals can also be found in large numbers in Ontario, British Columbia, and New Brunswick. This suggests that bilingualism is found more among francophones than among anglophones.

A majority of bilingual Canadians ive in Quebec or Ontario

(geographic distribution of bilingual Canadians aged 15 or older, per cent)

Source: Statistics Canada; The Conference Board of Canada

Bilinguals are more educated

(level of education by official languages proficiency in 2016, per cent)

College or cègepBachelor’sMaster’sDoctorateOther post graduateAll university certificates and degree
Anglophones 20.515.
Source: Statistics Canada; The Conference Board of Canada

Of the three groups examined here – anglophone monolinguals, francophone monolingual, and bilinguals –  bilinguals had the highest participation rate and the lowest unemployment rate in 2016. 

Bilingual participating in the labour market

(participation and unemployment rate, per cent)

2006 Participation rate2016 Participation rate2006 Unemployment rate2016 Unemployment rate
Anglophones 67.665.86.47.9
Francophones 59.756.27.37.8
Source: Statistics Canada; The Conference Board of Canada

What is more interesting, however, is that bilinguals are over-represented in public administration; cultural industries; wholesale trade; educational services; arts, entertainment, and recreation; professional, scientific, and technical services; and finance and insurance.

Bilingual Workers Are Over-Represented in Public Administration

(share of bilingual workers by industry, per cent)

Source: Statistics Canada; The Conference Board of Canada

While over 20% of Canadian workers are bilingual, the proportion falls to 10.3% when the data are limited to Canada outside Quebec. This could be indicative of the fact that in a bilingual economy, there are more economic advantages to learning the dominant language than there are to learning the minority language – One can imagine that a Quebec francophone can see more economic potential in learning English than an Alberta anglophone would see in learning French.

The majority of bilinguals outside Quebec live and work in Ontario

(Geographic distribution of bilinguals outside Quebec in 2016, per cent)

Source: Statistics Canada; The Conference Board of Canada

As with bilinguals across Canada as a whole, those outside Quebec graduate from university at an above-average rate. In 2016, 24.1% of the population aged 15 or older outside Quebec had at least a bachelor’s degree. Among bilinguals, the proportion rose to 37.%. Among anglophone monolinguals, it was 23.1%.

Bilinguals in Canada Outside Quebec Stay in School Longer

(Percentage of those with a bachelor’s degree or higher among those aged 15 or older, 2016)

Source: Statistics Canada; The Conference Board of Canada

In every province except New Brunswick, the share of bilinguals with at least a bachelor’s degree is higher than the average for all Canadians outside Quebec (24.1%). 

Bilinguals Earn More Almost Everywhere

(average income, $ millions)

Source: Statistics Canada; The Conference Board of Canada

Lastly, with respect to participation and unemployment rates, bilinguals are also well-placed, with a higher participation rate than anglophones in every province. Bilinguals are also less affected by unemployment, except in British Columbia.

Bilinguals outside Quebec are active in the labour market (2016)

Participation rate: bilingualsParticipation rate: anglophonesUnemployment rate: bilingualsUnemployment rate: anglophones
British Columbia 69.564.77.06.6
New Brunswick66.660.310.710.9
Nova Scotia69.460.49.110.1
Prince Edward Island70.366.011.312.4
Newfoundland and Labrador
Source: Statistics Canada; The Conference Board of Canada

What sectors do they – workers and bilingual workers – work in outside Quebec?

(workers and bilingual outside Quebec by sector, 2016, per cent)

Proportion of workers outside QuebecProportion of bilingual workers outside Quebec
Agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting 2.31.5
Mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction1.61.4
Manufacturing 7.44.8
Wholesale trade3.32.6
Retail trade10.69.1
Transportation and warehousing 4.53.4
Cultural industries2.12.6
Finance and insurance 4.04.1
Real estate services 1.71.3
Professional, scientific and technical services6.67.6
Enterprise managemanet0.20.2
Administrative and support services4.03.3
Educational services6.912.1
Healthcare and social assistance 10.410.3
Arts, entertainment and recreation2.02.7
Accommodation and food services6.76.4
Other services 4.03.5
Public administration5.911.2
Source: Statistics Canada; The Conference Board of Canada

Furthermore, bilinguals are often under-represented in the goods-producing industries (e.g., manufacturing, construction, the primary and utilities sector) in most provinces. The exception is Ontario, where 25.3% of workers in mining are bilingual (as compared with 11.5% of all Ontario workers). This could be indicative of two factors: employers in the services sector appreciate linguistic assets more than employers in the goods sector; or more bilinguals elect to seek jobs in the services sector. In reality, both factors are probably apply. Furthermore, given that a large proportion of bilinguals pursue post-secondary education, and given that they choose to study business administration, public administration, social sciences and law, it is not surprising that they are more numerous in the service industries than in the goods producing industries.

Bilingual are not numerous in legal services (bilingual workers as a share of all workers in legal services in 2016, number and per cent)

Number of bilingual workers in legal services Total number of worker in legal servicesBilingual workers as a proportion of all workers in legal services (per cent)
Prince Edward Island7045015.6
Nova Scotia4853,41514.2
New Brunswick8902,01044.3
British Columbia2,68523,45511.4
Total for Canada outside Quebec 17,600125,32014.0
Source: Statistics Canada; The Conference Board of Canada

Bilinguals Generate More Wealth Almost Everywhere

(per capita GDP, $ 000s)

Source: Statistics Canada; The Conference Board of Canada

It is in public administration that the contribution of bilinguals outside Quebec is most strongly felt. They account for more than one-fifth of output in that sector outside Quebec. Next is the educational services sector, where bilinguals generate 18.4% of output. And in third place is the cultural industries sector, where bilinguals generate 13.2% of output. 

Another finding is that, as is the case for Canada as a whole, the output of bilinguals outside Quebec is concentrated in finance, insurance, and real estate services. Of the $134.8 billion generated by bilinguals in 2016, 22.% was in finance, insurance, and real estate services, 13.3% in public administration, and 9.5% in educational services. This suggests that bilinguals working in finance, insurance, and real estate services are more productive than those who work in public administration or educational services, given that educational services employs 12.1% of bilinguals, public administration employs 11.2%, and finance, insurance, and real estate services employs 4.1%.


Canada’s Bilingual Dilemma

Photo credits: Ali Tawfiq, Unsplash / Juli Moreira, Unsplash / Lilian, Unsplash / Michael Descharles, Unsplash