Recent immigration to the United States and other developed nations has increasingly been from countries that have relatively traditional gender norms. However, little is known about how the immigrant assimilation process itself affects gender inequality among immigrants and across generations. If there is inequality within immigrant families such that men take the lead in interacting with the outside world, whereas women are relegated to doing chores that involve fewer interactions with the outside world, that would indicate that immigrant women are likely to remain beholden to their husbands for assimilation in the host country.
We bridge this knowledge gap by studying gender differences in time investments towards assimilation activities by first- and second-generation immigrant families living in the U.S. We explore an unexamined aspect of assimilation: time investments towards interactive assimilation, which is defined as time spent with people outside one’s family.
We used data on 89,833 married respondents of the 2003-2017 American Time Use Survey (ATUS) data. ATUS, conducted annually, is a nationally representative survey of how people spend their time. Respondents are asked to report how they spent the past 24-hour period, the location of each activity, and who else was present during the activity. We defined the 1st generation as foreign-born respondents, U.S.-born respondents with a foreign-born parent were the 2nd generation, and U.S.-born respondents with both U.S.-born parents were the 3rd or higher generation. We used multivariate regression analysis to study gender and generational differences in time spent in three activities that require interaction with natives: purchasing; education; and work and work-related activities; two activities that require little or no interaction with natives: household chores and caring for family members; and three activities where the level of interaction with natives could vary: eating and drinking; socializing, relaxing, leisure, sports and exercise; and religious and spiritual activities. We also examined gender and generation differences in time spent outside one’s own home and with non-family members. Analyses controlled for age, race, respondent’s and spouse’s educational attainment, number of children, U.S. state of residence, and year fixed effects.
The gender gap in time spent in assimilation activities was largest among the first-generation (p<.05). First-generation women spent the least amount of time on assimilating activities, the most amount of time on non-assimilation activities, and the least amount of time outside the home or interacting with non-family members, even when engaging in market work and other assimilation activities. The gender gap decreased across generations (p<.05).
Conclusions and Implications:
Gender inequality in time investments in assimilation suggest perpetuation of traditional gender roles in first-generation immigrant families such that wives are dependent on their husbands for assimilation. Women’s investments in assimilation even among working women who are viewed as economically assimilated are more constrained than was previously thought. Policy efforts to support assimilation investments of first-generation women are needed.