About CELFFaculty, Fellows and StaffCalendar of EventsResearch & Working PapersWork-Family ResourcesHome

Working Mothers in Downwardly Mobile Vietnamese-American Households: Some Preliminary Findings and Hypotheses

April Leininger

UCLA Sloan Center on Everyday Lives of Families
Working Paper No. 3


Many recent immigrant and refugee families in the United States are dual-earner families and as such can provide informative cross-cultural comparisons of working family formations. This paper examines cultural variation in working mothers’ experience of multiple roles. First, this paper summarizes the culture-specific content and organization of Vietnamese American immigrant women’s roles (mother, breadwinner, and noi tuong [“household manager”]). Next, ethnographic and interview evidence are presented. This evidence suggests that: (1) Vietnamese American immigrant working mothers’ moment-to-moment goals are often ways of promoting the family’s success, (2) Vietnamese American immigrant working mothers’ most deeply internalized goals tend to be collective goals, and (3) Vietnamese American immigrant working mothers have more objective but less subjective role conflict. Based on these preliminary results, this paper argues that performing the breadwinner role does not give rise to conflict and guilt for Vietnamese-American working mothers in part because childcare is regularly performed by other family members (fathers, older siblings, grandparents, extended family members), but also because these women experience their breadwinning not as an intrinsically fulfilling pursuit, but as a means to the end of caring for their families. Finally, I examine the implications of cultural variation in the content, organization, and experience of roles for a cross-cultural view of cultural and psychological factors influencing how work and family are balanced. While many U.S. American women feel forced to choose whether “to love or to earn” (Christensen, 1988, p. xiv), Vietnamese cultural goals and social norms may enable Vietnamese immigrant mothers to experience earning as a way of loving.

Home | About Us | Faculty, Fellows & Staff | Calendar of Events
Research & Working Papers | Work-Family Resources