Macquarie University
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Born to migrate: South Asian women in Sydney and the convergence of marriage, migration and maternity in shaping their participation in the paid workforce

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posted on 2022-03-28, 17:26 authored by Nila Sharma
My research is an interdisciplinary project with the Department of Anthropology as well as Demography at Macquarie University. The demographic research analyses data from Australian Bureau of Statistics and census materials in order to track the broad patterns of South Asian migration since the 1970s. It also tracks class of origin and patterns of settlement. It is within this broad demographic context that the issue of gender and labor force participation is located. By giving attention to statistical overview of South Asian migrant settlement in Australia, this research initiates a consideration of what demography can tell us about the integration of South Asian migrants into Australian society. Demographic data analysis from the year 2011 has revealed that women from South Asia are highly qualified than their Australian-born counterparts but underrepresented in theworkforce. It is at this point that the research shifts to qualitative ethnography in order to understand why the gap between educational attainments and labour force participation exists. One of the common explanations for this under-employment – lack of recognition of qualifications – has not emerged as salient in the qualitative data collected through interviews and informal observation. Instead, the data points to the salience of marriage and maternity and the specific timing of the migration in terms of the way in which women’s life cycles have been culturally constructed in South Asia. Migration studies, including the issue of how immigrants fare in labour market has attracted immense scholarly attention. But a vast majority has focused on experiences of male migrants by regarding them as the main source of agency in migration. I argue that in South Asia, it is women who are the archetypal migrants, groomed for migration since birth. Because this migration takes the form of marriage and movement to the husband’s kin and residence, it has simply been naturalized by scholarly literature. In making this argument, the research makes a contribution not only to migration and labour studies, but also to the study of gender and the broader discipline of anthropology which has failed to fully integrate the significance of the ‘traffic in women’ to kinship studies. By showing how marriage as migration maps on to what is more conventionally recognized as ‘migration’, in this case migrating from South Asia to Australia, the thesis forges fresh ground for the integration of studies of racism, multiculturalism, and settlement with issues usually reserved for studies of kinship, gender and South Asia.


Table of Contents

Chapter 1. Introduction -- Chapter 2.Demography of South Asian migrant population in Australia -- Chapter 3. Labour market experiences of South Asian women in Sydney -- Chapter 4. Marriage as migration -- Chapter 5. Maternity -- Chapter 6. Conclusion.


Theoretical thesis. Bibliography: pages 215-231

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis PhD


PhD, Macquarie University, Faculty of Arts, Department of Anthropology

Department, Centre or School

Department of Anthropology

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Kalpana Ram

Additional Supervisor 1

Fei Guo

Additional Supervisor 2

Greg Downey


Copyright Nila Sharma 2016. Copyright disclaimer:




New South Wales


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