Income profiles of first-generation migrants in Australia


My R journey continues. It’s going to be annoying here for a little while as I create sub-optimal graphs and discuss them.

The following are simple barplots showing first-generation migrant incomes from the 2011 Census:



The Census data doesn’t capture second-generation country of origin, which is why these are all people who were born overseas. Also, this is total weekly income, not split up into full/part-time or men/women. No generalities should be drawn about specific ethnic backgrounds based on the data above.

Things of note. The New Zealand and England profiles look the most similar to the labour market as a whole. However the New Zealand profile reflects some important immigration policy. The majority of English migrants are likely to be permanent residents and citizens, the New Zealanders are not. New Zealanders have higher labour market participation, pushing up their income per week, because many are unable to claim any type of welfare support and have difficulty accessing citizenship. There are also no limits on New Zealand immigration, the only country with that status. The New Zealand cohort also has a significant amount of people for who income is “not applicable”. I’m guessing this relates to tax status, however I’m unsure.

(Note: something to keep in mind is to ignore the raw numbers on the y-axis as the scale is different across the six origin countries. Instead, look at the shape of the bars within each graph and compare that shape with other countries)

The next set of origin countries – Croatia and Lebanon – reflect a different group of the labour market. Their income levels are significantly skewed to the left, meaning they have lower incomes. This is expected, given the English language deficit and what we know this means in relation to earnings (see Chiswick and Miller for the best explainers). For both countries, the largest single group is earning between $200-299 per week and trending down after that. These groups are probably both at their highest levels and will naturally decline over time as many people from these countries would have arrived post-1985 and still be in the labour market (post-Lebanon civil war and post-Balkans conflict). Future Croatian and Lebanese ethnic residents of Australia will be largely second-generation migrants as these are not countries which have high current immigration numbers. Second-generation migrants tend to be highly reflective of the overall labour market, given they will have very similar education and language abilities.

The last set of origin countries – China and Vietnam – again reflect a different immigration history. It is highly likely the large number of “Nil income” Chinese-born people are some combination of sponsored parents and, separately, international students who choose not to work. This type of profile is extremely unique with none of the other countries showing anything even remotely similar. Over time, with more Chinese-born migrating to Australia, the profile will likely flatten out a bit, with more people earning income as they enter the labour market. Vietnam-born residents reflect a large number of $200-299 earners however instead of trending down like Croatia and Lebanon, the group trends up after this, albeit below the level of the $200-299 category. Unlike the Chinese-born profile, the number of migrants born in Vietnam is likely in decline (or at a minimum, growing very slowly compared to the Australian population). This is due to the number of refugees who arrived throughout the 1980s and 1990s.

It will be interesting to see how these profiles change over time. With the majority of immigrants now from an Asian background, you would expect first-generation British migrants to age with the rest of the labour force, whereas other countries of origin – China, India – will likely get younger and as they increasingly arrive through skilled immigration pathways, have high average incomes. You could not have predicted these profiles even two decades ago, when European migration dominated.


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