Are Immigrant Women Secondary Workers? The Case of Canada

Alicia Adsera, Princeton University
Ana Ferrer, University of Waterloo

Some researchers argue that immigrant women are secondary workers, who join the labor market mostly as a response to family income shocks and become employed mainly in unskilled jobs to support their husbands’investment in local skills. We use the confidential files of the Canadian Census 1991-2006, combined with information from O*NET on the skill requirements of jobs, to show that the labor market patterns of female immigrants do not fit the profile of secondary workers, but rather conform to the recent experience of married native women with rising participation (and wage assimilation). At best, only relatively uneducated immigrant women in unskilled occupations may fit the profile of secondary workers. Educated immigrant women experience skill assimilation over time: a reduction in physical strength and a gradual increase in quantitative skills required in their jobs relative to natives.

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Presented in Session 173: Socioeconomic Dimensions of Assimilation