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Female Employment and Escape from Poverty Among Recent Immigrants

Lisa Kaida

What you need to know

The employment of recently-arrived immigrant women makes a significant contribution to lifting their family out of poverty. European immigrants have a higher probability of exiting poverty, explained by their higher female employment rates than their non-European counterparts.

What is this research about?

Immigrants have higher poverty rates than those born in Canada. Within that group, non-Europeans have higher poverty rates. Most recent immigrants have high levels of education, which can make the high poverty rates seem odd.

This research addresses how female employment helps families rise out of poverty. The researcher compares the data to the equal earner/female breadwinner model and the male breadwinner model. The equal earner/female breadwinner model describes when women earn as much as or more than their male spouse. The male breadwinner model applies to a case where men are earning the majority of family income, whereas their wives are earning a small income just to cover incidental expenses or are not working for pay.

What did the researcher do?

The researcher used data from the Longitudinal Survey of Immigrants to Canada, a survey that looked at immigrants aged 15 and over who came to Canada as permanent residents between 2000 and 2001. Interviews were conducted six months, two years, and four years after the immigrant's arrival. This study focused on female immigrants aged 25-54 who were living with male spouses, and whose total family income two years after arrival was below Statistic Canada's low income cut-off.

What did the researcher find?

In low-income new immigrant families, employed female spouses make notable contributions to their family income. Employed women are more likely to move their family out of poverty than unemployed female immigrants, and help lift their family out of poverty regardless of their male spouse's employment. Results from this study support the female breadwinner model, suggesting the ability of employed women to help lift their families out of poverty is equal or greater than males. Among immigrant women, Arab and West Asian women have lower employment and poverty exit rates than their European counterparts. The male breadwinner model applies more to Arab and West Asian groups.

How can you use this research?

This research has social policy implications. Removing barriers to employment for non-European women, such as by providing job training, and access to daycare, could help support women in gaining employment. Further studies of immigrant inequality require attention to ethnicity as well as gender.

About the researcher

Dr. Lisa Kaida is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at McMaster University.


Kaida, Lisa. "Ethnic Variations in Immigrant Poverty Exit and Female Employment: The Missing Link." Demography 52.2 (2015): 485-511. DOI: 10.1007/s13524-015-0371-8


CERIS – The Ontario Metropolis Centre (Graduate Student Research Award)


Learn more about Dr. Lisa Kaida