Immigrant Women Have More Power in the Family, Face Big Economic Challenges According to New Poll

By Diego Graglia, FI2W web editor
Immigrant women are keeping families together -- Photo: New America Media.

Immigrant women are keeping families together. (Photo: New America Media)

Immigrant women in the U.S. “face formidable barriers” –lack of language skills, discrimination, low wages, lack of health care–, but still their numbers continue to grow and they are “now on the move as much as men,” a poll released Thursday said.

As they settle in America, traveling great distances and adapting to a new culture, women’s roles in the family have changed too: many assume the role of head of household or start sharing responsibilities and power with their husbands, said the study, commissioned by New America Media (NAM), a group that fosters cooperation between ethnic news organizations.

According to the poll of 1,102 people, Women Immigrants: Stewards of the 21st Century (click for pdf), many female immigrants “acknowledge speaking little or no English, while confronting anti-immigrant discrimination, lack of healthcare and low-paying employment well below the status of the professional work most did in their home countries.”

This problem was reported by large majorities of the women polled –79% percent of Latin American women, 73% of Vietnamese women, 70% of Korean women, and 63% of Chinese women.

NAM’s executive director Sandy Close said in a press release,

The poll establishes that in the latter part of the 20th century women immigrated to America in ever-growing numbers, and are now on the move as much as men, but often face vastly different circumstances and challenges.

Women are migrating not as lone individuals but as members, even heads, of families, determined to keep family bonds intact even as they travel great distances and adapt to new cultures. This journey has activated women.

In this sense, the poll found that almost one-third of women reported having taken on the role of heads of household or sharing decision-making, family finances and family planning duties with their husbands.

What’s more, an “overwhelming majority” of women said they “had become more assertive at home and in public after moving” to the U.S.

This result was reported by 81 percent of Latin Americans, 71 percent of Chinese, 68 percent among Vietnamese, 66 percent among Africans and 53 percent among women from Arab countries.

“Women immigrants reveal that they came to America not in search of streets paved with gold –making money was surprisingly low on their list of priorities,” said Close, “but because they saw the U.S. as a place to build better futures for their children, and to make permanent homes for their families.

“At a time when more than one-third of U.S. families are single-parent households, 90 percent of women immigrants are raising children in intact marriages,” she added.

Rep. Mazie K. Hirono (D.-Hawaii), who took part in a panel discussion where the poll results were announced, said the poll reminded her of the challenges her own family faced in arriving in the U.S., according to NAM.

“I found it striking that the data from this historic poll parallels my mother’s own experience in bringing me and my brothers to the United States from Japan in the mid 1950’s — her desire to build better futures for us; her early low-paying, no benefits jobs; her determination to keep the family together as head-of-household,” Hirono said.

She added the poll shows the need for public policy that improves immigrant women’s quality of life.

These are some of the poll’s other findings:

A great majority (82 percent) of Latin American women said anti-immigrant discrimination was a major problem for their family. Only 17 percent from African or Arab countries and 13 percent of Chinese women felt the same way.

Forty percent of women from Latin American countries do not have health insurance.

Most of those from China, Korea, the Philippines, India, Africa and Arab countries said the last job they had in their home countries was a professional one. Many of them have not found comparable employment in the U.S.

“Helping my children achieve success” and “being able to hold my family together,” rather than economic concerns, were most often named as the biggest challenges facing women immigrants in the U.S.

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