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Contextual explanations for numeracy and literacy skill disparities between native and foreign-born adults in western countries

Using new direct measures of numeracy and literacy skills among 85,875 adults in 17 Western countries, we find that foreign-born adults have lower mean skills than native-born adults of the same age (16 to 64) in all of the examined countries. The gaps are small and vary substantially between countries. Multilevel models reveal that immigrant populations’ demographic and socioeconomic characteristics, employment, and language proficiency explain about half of the cross-national variance of numeracy and literacy skills gaps. Differences in origin countries’ average education level also account for variation in the size of the immigrant-native skills gap. The more protective labor markets in immigrant-receiving countries are, the less well immigrants are skilled in numeracy and literacy compared to natives. For those who migrate before their teens (the 1.5 generation), access to an education system that accommodates migrants’ special needs is crucial. The 1 and 1.5 generation have smaller numeracy and literacy skills gaps in more ethnically diverse societies