Document Type

Working Paper


This report presents the findings of a study into the experiences of NESB migrant women in the workforce. The fieldwork, which involved interviewing over one hundred immigrant women living and working in Sydney, was carried out between October 1988 and February 1989. The study also involved an extensive review of Australian and international literature on immigrant women in the workforce and the analysis of recent census and labour force survey data.

The study focussed particularly on the experiences of newly arrived migrant women and examined many aspects of women's employment experiences in Australia including the relationship between women's pre-migration histories, their participation in the workforce in Australia and their domestic and family responsibilities.

Although economic and social conditions in Australia have changed considerably in the post-war period, the study found that the continuities in the lives of women immigrants arriving in Australia in the 1950s and 1960s and those arriving today were more marked than the differences. It would seem that their place in the economy has altered little, and that employment continues to play the key role in structuring women's lives despite the development of an increased role for the state through ethnic affairs policies.

Little evidence was found to support the theory that immigrants' work force experiences reflect their pre-migration human capital endowments. Instead, we found that women from a variety of different backgrounds finished up, after emigrating to Australia, in similarly low status, unpleasant and unrewarding jobs - jobs which for many represented substantial downward mobility. These women experienced the segmentation of the labour market as a constraining framework, directing them towards certain types of jobs and limiting their opportunities to move out of them.

The report presents fresh evidence of immigrant women's employment-related problems, many of which have been documented previously. Unemployment emerges as the greatest difficulty encountered by newly arrived women in Australia today.

In the last chapter, recommendations in the areas of vocational guidance and training, equal employment opportunity, work conditions, women's participation in trade unions and childcare and family support are made. A reflection on the research methodology used in this study, and alternatives to it, concludes the report.