Does Care Count for Less? Tracing the Income Trajectories of Low Status Female Immigrant Workers in Canada, 1993–2015


Canada has long relied on women from poorer countries to fill gaps in its paid care market. Yet little is known about the upward or downward trajectories of immigrant women who arrive intending to work in lower status jobs in care. Using a unique administrative dataset (the Longitudinal Immigration Database), the author estimates a series of growth curve models of employment income for 220,265 non-professional, non-managerial immigrant women working in Canada between 1993 and 2015. Results reinforce prior suggestions of a “care [wage] penalty”, as all intended care workers, besides nurse aides, fare worse over two decades in the labour market than comparable intended non-care workers. Yet entry class is also found to play a role. Women who arrive to Canada though the Live-in Caregiver Program--which has the explicit goal of providing in-home care for children, the elderly, and people with disabilities--have higher employment income than comparable immigrant women reporting the intention to work in homecare who entered via the family reunification and economic immigration streams.


Le Canada compte depuis longtemps sur les femmes des pays plus pauvres pour combler les lacunes de son marché des soins rémunérés. Pourtant, nos connaissances sont limitées sur les trajectoires ascendantes ou descendantes des immigrantes qui arrivent avec l'intention d'occuper des emplois de statut inférieur dans le secteur des soins. À l'aide d'une base de données administratives uniques (la base de données longitudinale sur l'immigration), l'auteur estime une série de modèles de courbe de croissance du revenu d'emploi pour 220 265 immigrantes non professionnelles et non gestionnaires travaillant au Canada entre 1993 et 2015. Les résultats renforcent les suggestions antérieures d'un « pénalité de soins », car tous les soignants visés, outre les aides-soignantes, réussissent moins bien sur le marché du travail sur deux décennies que les travailleurs non soignants visés comparables. Pourtant, la classe d'entrée joue également un rôle. Les femmes qui arrivent au Canada par le biais du Programme des aides familiaux résidants -- dont l'intention explicite est de fournir des soins à domicile aux enfants, aux personnes âgées et aux personnes handicapées -- ont un revenu d'emploi plusélevé que les femmes immigrantes comparables déclarant l'intention de travailler dans les soins à domicile qui sont entrés via les volets du regroupement familial et de l'immigration économique.

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  1. 1.

    The LCP was reformed in 2014, in part due to critiques from caregivers and their advocates that the live-in component created scenarios of employer exploitation and abuse (Banerjee et al., 2018; Tungohan et al., 2015).

  2. 2.

    By comparison, the top five intended non-caring occupations for the sample of non-professional, non-managerial immigrant women at landing between 1993 and 2015 were administrative assistants (17%); administrative officers (4.2%), accounting technicians and bookkeepers (3.5%), tailors, dressmakers, furriers, and milliners (3.4%) and general office support workers (3.3%).

  3. 3.

    Within the total non-professional, non-managerial sample, only 3% of immigrants reporting these intended occupations between 1993 and 2015 were male. Consequently, the empirical analysis in this study focuses on the female population only.

  4. 4.

    The IMDB does not include undocumented or illegalized immigrants, as they do not file taxes. These individuals likely comprise a significant proportion of the immigrant population in Canada’s larger cities (see Sidhu, 2013).

  5. 5.

    The analysis for this paper begins in 1993, 1 year after the introduction of the LCP, in order to allow all immigrants in the sample sufficient time in the labour market for accurate measurement of annual employment income in the tax file data.

  6. 6.

    MLM is appropriate for the IMDB, in part, because it incorporates all individuals in its estimation of trajectories, regardless of the number of waves in which the respondent participated, thereby addressing concerns about data attrition and periods outside the labour market (Fairbrother, 2014).

  7. 7.

    Note that the intended occupation field is mandatory for principal applicant immigrants within the economic entry categories, in part explaining its high prevalence within the study population.


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This study was funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (File no: 430-2018-00062).

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Correspondence to Naomi Lightman.

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Appendix 1

Table 4 Growth curve model measuring annual employment income trajectory for migrant women intending to work in care (dichotomous measure), 1993–2015

Appendix 2

Table 5 Growth curve model measuring annual employment income trajectory for migrant women intending to work in care (categorical measure), 1993–2015

Appendix 3

Table 6 Growth curve models measuring annual employment income trajectories for LCP migrant women reporting four types of intended care work, 1993–2015

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Lightman, N. Does Care Count for Less? Tracing the Income Trajectories of Low Status Female Immigrant Workers in Canada, 1993–2015. Can. Stud. Popul. (2021).

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  • Labor migration
  • Gender and migration
  • Longitudinal analysis in demographic research


  • Migration et travail
  • Migration et genre
  • Analyse longitudinale dans la recherche démographique