Dynamic Diaspora: Women and Immigration

Part: 5

Women's ESL Dominance Tied to Job Demands

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Immigrant women far outnumber men in English as a Second Language classes across the states. Helping school-age children is one big reason. So is gaining access to work.

Page 2 of 2

Women Half of Recent Immigrants

Females are about half of recently arrived immigrants to the United States, said Richard Fry, senior research associate at the Pew Research Center, based in Washington, D.C.

Not much difference exists in the English proficiency of recently arrived males and females, thus there is no gender difference in the need for ESL.

Many reasons motivate women to enroll in ESL classes, said Andrew Sum, director of the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University, Boston. "Our research shows that for immigrant women, if you lack good English skills you are significantly more likely to be bounced out of the labor market."

While immigrant men find jobs more easily, women have a harder time and the wage consequences for not knowing English are higher, adds Sum.

One reason is that immigrant men tend to join male-dominated job sectors, such as construction, which do not require high language skills. Women tend to seek jobs that entail customer service, such as entry-level health care and hospitality, which demand English speaking and writing skills.

"For women, the penalty for not having the English skills is higher, the reward for getting them is stronger," said Sum.

Male Motivation Differs

If men join ESL classes it is usually to get a better paying job, he said.

Fatima Fadi, who came with her husband a year ago from Morocco, often asks her Moroccan male friends, "Why you don't go to school?"

She said there is one unanimous answer, always--they all want to collect money and start a business back home.

But for her, ESL school is a chance to integrate into the community. She said that not knowing English makes her feel lonely, particularly when she tries to shop and can't communicate with merchants.

In an ESL class at the Immigrant Learning Center in Malden, Mass., she finds her second home and draws confidence from her classmates.

According to Sum, ESL classes provide an opportunity to women to be a "better parent, instructor for children and be a more intellectually engaged individual."

This seems to be the case for Xiu Mei Su, who came from China six years ago. Su wants to be engaged in her daughter's education. "I don't want my children feel embarrassed when I go for parent-teacher meetings," she said

Claudia Green, director of English for New Bostonians at the Boston-based Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, cautions that children and parenting are not always the motivator for women to take ESL classes.

"A lot of times, women waited until their children were older, till they felt it is my turn now," she said.

Alesandrina Perez, who is from Peru, waited for 10 years before she enrolled in English classes. Now that her daughters are in school she is fervently trying to learn English.

Wiping away tears she said, "If you don't know English, people always discriminate against you."

 

Asian
M

Asian
F

Hispanic or Latino
M

Hispanic or Latino
F

Texas

920

1921

14,154

29,849

California

23,093

49,535

132,413

170,102

New York

3,785

8,340

18,937

27,430

Florida

1,711

3,068

34,866

48,730

Massachusetts

726

1,635

1,956

3,773

National

52,106

108,387

314, 261

423,950

Source: Office of Vocational and Adult Education: National Reporting System

Bijoyeta Das is a multimedia journalist based in Istanbul, Turkey.

For more information:

Office of Vocational and Ault Education: National Reporting System
http://wdcrobcolp01.ed.gov/CFAPPS/OVAE/NRS/includes/login.cfm

Note: Women's eNews is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites and the contents of site the link points to may change.

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