May 2014

Job characteristics among working parents: differences by race, ethnicity, and nativity


This article seeks to address this gap. Using a pooled 5-year sample of the Annual Social and Economic Supplement (ASEC) to the CPS from 2007 through 2011, we assess whether minority and foreign-born working parents are less likely to have access to economic resources through their jobs than White and U.S.-born working parents. This article contributes to the literature by examining an understudied but important group of American workersparentsand by assessing whether certain racial and ethnic subgroups and/or foreign-born workers have less access to jobs that facilitate working parents’ ability to economically support their children.

Literature review

Nativity and racial and ethnic disparities in job characteristics

Numerous studies over the last four decades have found racial and ethnic disparities in wages after controlling for a range of human capital variables.15 Hispanics and particularly Hispanic women are most likely to have low-wage jobs,16 and Black workers have less wage security than do White worHkers.17 Black and Hispanic workers are significantly less likely to have access to employer-sponsored health insurance, pensions or retirement accounts,18 or employer-provided life insurance.19 Using CPS data, Schmitt finds that 42 percent of Black and 46 percent of Hispanic workers have access to employer-provided health insurance, compared with 57 percent of White workers. Similarly, while 25 percent of Black workers and 40 percent of Hispanic workers have access to employer-sponsored pension benefits, 53 percent of White workers have access.20

Research also has documented disparities in job characteristics between foreign-born and U.S.-born workers. Foreign-born adults’ lower average levels of education and sometimes limited English proficiency explain much of their vulnerability to low-wage jobs.21 Although about one-fourth of foreign-born adults work in highly skilled jobs with good wages and benefits, more than half of foreign-born workers (56 percent) are employed in low-skilled jobs, compared with 46 percent of their U.S.-born counterparts.22 Foreign-born workers also are less likely to have access to employer-provided health insurance;23 daytime, standard work schedules;24 and safe and healthy job conditions.25

Empirical studies also have found that the effect of being born outside the United States on job mobility varies by cohort and duration in the United States, evidence consistent with assimilation theory, which posits that each successive generation of new entrants to the United States will become more fully integrated into American society.26 Moreover, evidence suggests that the effect of assimilation into the labor market and into better jobs could differ by race and ethnicity. This “segmented assimilation model” highlights the heterogeneity among the foreign-born and argues that the outcomes of foreign-born individuals and the speed with which they integrate will be influenced by social factors as well as human capital variables.27 This model posits that social context could result in downward as well as upward assimilation; for example, foreign-born racial and ethnic minority groups could face discrimination and barriers to social mobility resulting in assimilation into disadvantaged segments of the U.S. population over time and generations. Research on foreign-born individuals has demonstrated the variation in patterns, paths, and speeds of assimilation by race and ethnicity28 and country of origin.29 Lack of sample size and longitudinal data sources has limited the extent to which the interaction between race and ethnicity and immigration status has been examined.


15 For a review of studies of male earnings, see Bruce Western and Becky Pettit, “Black–White wage inequality, employment rates, and incarceration,” American Journal of Sociology, September 2005, pp. 553–578; and Moshe Semyonov and Noah Lewin-Epstein, “The declining earnings gap in the United States: multi-level analysis of males’ earnings, 1960–2000,” Social Science Research, June 2009, pp. 296–311.

16 Kalleberg et al., “Bad jobs in America,” pp. 256–278.

17 Heather Boushey, “Reworking the wage curve: exploring the consistency of the model across time, space and demographic group,” Review of Political Economy, July 2002, pp. 293–312.

18 Semyonov and Lewin-Epstein, “The declining earnings gap, pp. 296–311; Matt L. Huffman and Philip N. Cohen, “Racial wage inequality: job segregation and devaluation across U.S. labor markets,” American Journal of Sociology, January 2004, pp. 902–936; and Jennifer R. Keene and Anastasia H. Prokos, “Comparing offers and take-ups of employee health insurance across race, gender, and decade,” Sociological Inquiry, August 2007, pp. 425–459.

19 Wallace Mok and Zahra Siddique, “Racial and ethnic inequality in employer provided fringe benefits,” Discussion Paper no. 6255 (Institute for the Study of Labor, December 2011),

20 John Schmitt, Labor markets and economic inequality in the United States since the end of the 1970s (Center for Economic and Policy Research, April 2005),

21 David Card, “Is the new immigration really so bad?” The Economic Journal, November 2005, pp. 300–323; James P. Smith, “Immigrants and the labor market,” Journal of Labor Economics, April 2006, pp. 203–234; and Randolph Capps, Michael Fix, and Serena Yi-Ying Lin, Still an hourglass? Immigrant workers in middle-skilled jobs, report in brief (Migration Policy Institute, September 2010),

22 Capps et al., Still an hourglass? pp. 14.

23 Swarn Chatterjee and Robert B. Nielsen, “Employer-provided health insurance coverage: a comparison of employed native-born and immigrant Americans,” Family and Consumer Sciences Research Journal, September 2011, pp. 15–27; and Thomas C. Buchmeuller, Anthony T. Lo Sasso, Lurie Ithai, and Sarah Dolfin, “Immigrants and employer-sponsored health insurance, Health Services Research, February 2007, pp. 286–310.

24 Mamta U. Ojha, “Job demands, social support, and work-family conflict: a comparative study of immigrant and native workers in the United States,” Paper 198 (Ph.D. diss., University of Kentucky Doctoral Dissertations, 2011), http://uknowledge

25 Pia M. Orrenius and Madeline Zavodny, “Do immigrants work in risky jobs?” Demography, August 2009, pp. 535–551.

26 For more information, see Bean et al., “Immigrant job quality and mobility,” pp. 499–518.

27 Alejandro Portes and Ruben G. Rumbaut, Legacies: the story of the immigrant second generation (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2001).

28 Min Zhou and Yang Sao Xiong, “The multifaceted American experiences of the children of Asian immigrants: lessons for segmented assimilation,” Ethnic and Racial Studies, November 2005, pp. 1119–1152; Tomás R. Jiménez, “Mexican immigrant replenishment and the continuing significance of ethnicity and race,” American Journal of Sociology, May 2008, pp. 1527–1567; Yen Le Espiritu, Home bound: Filipino American lives across cultures, communities, and countries (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2003); Jennifer Lee and Frank D. Bean, “America’s changing color lines: immigration, race/ethnicity, and multiracial identification,” Annual Review of Sociology, August 2004, pp. 221–242; and Arpana G. Inman, Erin E. Howard, Robin L. Beaumont, and Jessica A. Walker, “Cultural transmission: influence of contextual factors in Asian Indian immigrant parents’ experiences,” Journal of Counseling Psychology, January 2007, pp. 93–100.

29 What kinds of work do immigrants do? Occupation and industry of foreign-born workers in the United States (Migration Policy Institute, January 23, 2004),

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About the Author

Alison Earle

Alison Earle is a senior scientist at the Institute on Child, Youth and Family Policy, Heller School for Social Policy and Management, Brandeis University, Waltham, Massachusetts.

Pamela Joshi

Pamela Joshi is a senior scientist at the Institute on Child, Youth and Family Policy, Heller School for Social Policy and Management, Brandeis University, Waltham, Massachusetts.

Kimberly Geronimo

Kimberly Geronimo is a research associate at the Institute on Child, Youth and Family Policy Heller School for Social Policy and Management Brandeis University, Waltham, Massachusetts.

Dolores Acevedo-Garcia

Dolores Acevedo-Garcia is a professor at and director of the Institute on Child, Youth and Family Policy, Heller School for Social Policy and Management, Brandeis University, Waltham, Massachusetts.