Gender Roles in Economics

Prior to 1965, most Caribbean women who migrated to the United States reunited with male partners who were already abroad or who were sponsored by previously migrated relatives (Foner, 1986). When the U.S. immigration laws were reformed in 1965, a visa preference system was substituted for racial quotas and West Indians were granted easier access to the United States. Since 1965, Caribbean women have outnumbered their male compatriots in migrating to America (Foner, 1986).

Significantly, West Indian women in particular have high labor-force participation rates when compared with their male counterparts and with immigrants from other regions (Kasinitz, 2001, p. 266). West Indian women are also heavily represented in certain occupations—nursing and nurses' aides, domestic childcare workers, teaching, and in the finance, insurance, and real estate sectors. While West Indian women have formed niches in the nursing, nurses' aides, and domestic sectors, unlike other immigrant groups they have tended not to form autonomous economic enclaves that link coethnic employers, employees, and customers under unified business umbrellas (Kasinitz, 2001, p. 266). It is more difficult to characterize the occupational specializations for West Indian men because they take on more diverse types of employment than their female counterparts (Kasinitz, 2001, p. 266). The men are less heavily niched but, like the women, they are also predominantly involved in the services and public sectors (Kasinitz, 2001, p. 266).

West Indian women in New York (and London) overwhelmingly reported that they experience more independence after migrating abroad (Foner, 1978, p. 62-71). The primary gauge of independence for these women rested in their abilities to hold regular paid employment, something difficult to do in the Caribbean owing to high levels of unemployment and to women's primary role as child caregivers. In the West Indies, the division of household labor is almost uniformly patterned around men performing outdoor chores and women performing indoor chores (Chevannes, 2001, p. 208; Evans & Davies, 1997). Women are responsible for all housework and, in fact, certain female chores such as washing dishes and clothing are considered demeaning and/or polluting to males (Chevannes, 2001, p. 208). Present economic conditions in the Caribbean, coupled with the high number of female-headed households, have resulted in more women working outside the home. For West Indian Americans, this means that women are accustomed to working outside the home but men are not always accustomed to participating in domestic duties. Still, immigrants indicate that West Indian men who migrate learn that they have to contribute to household duties (Foner, 1986).

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