Document Type

Working Paper


Equality of opportunity is central to the stability of liberal democracies, and one of the mechanisms through which it takes place is social mobility. Societies such as Australia, which have large proportions of immigrants, encounter particular problems in ensuring that the opportunity for mobility is available equally to all birthplace groups. This report examines patterns of social mobility in Australia by examining Maltese, Lebanese and Vietnamese immigrants, together with an Australian born control group. The data come from a 1988-89 national opinion survey conducted on behalf of the Office of Multicultural Affairs. The major findings which emerge from the analysis are as follows:

• migration represents a major disruption to a working career, with immigrants being reduced to a uniform level of job status in their early years of settlement, regardless of their inherited capital or individual achievements;
• while there are broad similarities in the patterns of social mobility between the immigrant groups, there are also significant differences, particularly in the impact of education and qualifications;
• for all birthplace groups, family inheritance is of lesser importance in determining social mobility than individual achievements, suggesting a high level of openness within Australian society;
• primary and secondary education obtained within Australia produces substantial rewards for a migrant's first occupation, relative to similar education gained overseas, but it is of little influence in determining later career jobs;
• possession of a recognised overseas qualification is equal to, or greater than, an equivalent Australian qualification in influencing the status of first job. But in the later career, it is the Australian qualification which counts;
• English proficiency is of economic value only to longer-established migrant groups, although the reasons for this remain unclear;
• Attitudes towards the nature of work are of considerable importance in determining who will do well in Australia in terms of occupational status, and who will not; and
• Family networks have only a minor impact on mobility.