Women do more unpaid work in immigrant families

Immigrant women tend to do more unpaid labor, such as housework and childcare, than native-born women in the U.S., new Cornell research has found.

The study, “Culture and Gender Allocation of Tasks: Source Country Characteristics and the Division of Non-Market Work Among U.S. Immigrants,” which published in December in the Review of Economics of the Household, recently earned the Time Use Research Award, conferred by IPUMS, the repository and curator of census and survey data from around the world.

A team of researchers including Francine D. Blau, the Francis Perkins Professor of Industrial and Labor Relations and professor of economics, and Lawrence M. Kahn, the Braunstein Family Professor and professor of economics, both in the ILR School, analyzed the gender division of nonmarket work, comparing immigrant and native-born men and women.

 “Professors Blau and Kahn, who have been leading the study of gender and the labor market for decades, continue to break new ground with this recent award-winning study,” said Alexander Colvin, Ph.D. ’99, the Kenneth F. Kahn ’69 Dean of the ILR School. “It shows, once again, the power of their comparative work, drawing on cross-national data to deepen our understanding of the impacts of culture and gender on labor market behavior.”

Nonmarket work refers to unpaid work people do outside their market jobs, like time spent in housework and childcare. Using data from the 2003-17 American Time Use Survey, and by incorporating data on source country gender equality, the authors found smaller gender gaps in nonmarket work for first-generation immigrants from more gender-equal source countries, though still larger on average than gender gaps between native-born men and women.

“Overall, we find that immigrants have a more traditional division of labor than natives in that, even controlling for their characteristics, immigrant women tend to allocate more time to nonmarket work than their native counterparts, while immigrant men tend to allocate less,” the researchers wrote. “Women from more gender-equal countries spend fewer hours per week on household labor than their counterparts from less gender-equal countries, allocating less time to both housework and childcare. Men from more gender-equal countries spend more hours per week on nonmarket work compared to men from less gender equal countries, both for housework and childcare.”

Co-authors included economics doctoral students Matthew Comey and Amanda Eng, as well as Pamela Meyerhofer, Ph.D. ’20, now at Montana State University, and Alexander Willén, M.S. ’16, Ph.D. ’18, now at the Norwegian School of Economics.

Julie Greco is a communications specialist with the ILR School.

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