The Labor Force Trajectories of Immigrant Women: Intersecting Personal Characteristics and Migration Dynamics

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Paper Abstract: 
While research on immigrant women’s labor market incorporation has increased in recent years, systematic comparisons of employment trajectories by national origin and over time remain rare, and the literature remains dominated by the male experience. Especially lacking are studies that take both individual factors and larger migration dynamics into account, limiting our understanding of women’s contributions to the economic well-being of immigrant families, and of the process of incorporation more broadly. Using U.S. Census and ACS data from 1990 to 2016, we construct synthetic cohorts by national origin, period, and age at arrival to track their labor force participation over time. We construct a typology of national origin trajectories and then model them adjusting for individual characteristics and gendered dynamics of migration flows, namely the sex ratio, share of women arriving single, and share of men arriving with a college education. Results indicate that immigrant women tend to gradually join the workforce over time, though with significant variation in starting levels and growth rates. Cohorts from Mexico, Central America, and South America exhibited a delayed pattern of incorporation (though Mexican women start at lower levels than others), while women from India, Korea and other Asian countries followed an accelerated incorporation trajectory from very low starting rates. Those from Europe, Africa, China, Vietnam, and Canada showed gradual incorporation while Filipinas and Caribbeans exhibited continuous, intensive employment. We show that historically produced gendered dynamics of migration flows explain a substantial share of national origin variation in workforce incorporation.