Language, livelihoods and well-being in multilingual countries: Reaching the research-frontier with secondary data for Ghana

This project examined how language skills affect livelihoods (Sustainable Development Goal 8) and health and well-being (SDG 3) in multilingual societies. Practical pressures tend to reinforce the use of one or few official languages, but such standardisation inevitably comes at the cost of disadvantaging speakers of other languages. The research focused on the case of Ghana, a country of over 80 languages, where English has been adopted as the lingua franca, with a limited role for selected Ghanaian languages. Findings will be used to explore policy options that support all linguistic groups to achieve their full potential. This poses a riddle as language is both a skill and an indicator of life chances as marginal languages are often spoken by marginalised peoples. To disentangle this, we used evidence from the World Bank’s STEPS skills survey. Moreover, we designed a new household survey specifically intended to better identify the complex role of language skills in livelihoods and wellbeing, which we will seek funding to implement in a subsequent project.

The nature of employment is likely to be a key mechanism through which the level of language skills and linguistic-typological “distance” from the lingua franca is transformed into earnings, health and wellbeing disadvantages. In particular, gaining employment in the formal sector is pivotal, as workers in the informal sector have irregular incomes and lack access to basic protection such as pensions and health insurance. 

The project was structured around 5 objectives.

  1. Provide robust evidence on how language proficiencies influence livelihoods in terms of activity levels and incomes and crucially whether respondents benefit from the relative affluence of formal sector employment.
  2. Providing rich descriptive evidence on the interdependence of language, employment status, socioeconomic and health outcomes. Through graphical representation and moderation analyses we will strive to illustrate the complexity of the interdependencies between language, social status, livelihoods, location, dwelling, health and education.
  3. Critically evaluating the evidence available from the STEPS survey, particularly the comprehensiveness and accuracy of survey instruments identifying language skills, livelihood and health and well-being outcomes and identifying gaps in the dataset, such as educational, employment and language use histories.
  4. Design a survey that can supersede STEPS and establish a new state of the art for identifying language skills and life outcomes (including better handle on language skills, information on previous generation, exposure to language in schooling and geographic stratification of linguistic groups). Specifically, we aim to develop a detailed sampling plan and a fully fleshed out questionnaire.
  5. Identifying a menu of policy options drawing on the evidence collated and generated by the project.

PI and Co-Is - International Collaborators

Dr Kristinn Hermannsson, School of Education, University of Glasgow

Dr Angela Gayton, English Language & Linguistics, School of Critical Studies, University of Glasgow

Dr Gabriel Aboyadana, School of Education, University of Glasgow

Dr Colin Reilly, School of Education, University of Glasgow

Dr Elvis Rescue, Department of Linguistics, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Kumasi, Ghana

Dr Simon Bawakyillenuo, Institute of Statistical, Social and Economic Research, University of Ghana, Accra, Ghana

Dr Henry Telli, International Growth Centre, Accra, Ghana

Dr Rosario Scandurra, Centre for Research on Globalisation and Education Policies (GEPS), Autonomous University of Barcelona, Spain

Start and End date

1 January 2021 - 31 July 2021

Funder and Funding amount

Scottish Funding Council / Global Challenges Research Fund