Rethinking Social Participation: The Case of Immigrants in Canada

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May 8, 2008 - Abstract The social engagement of Canada's immigrants continues to be ... marked by a general immigration differential, newcomers to Canada ...

Int. Migration & Integration (2008) 9:21–44 DOI 10.1007/s12134-008-0046-z

Rethinking Social Participation: The Case of Immigrants in Canada Philippe Couton & Stéphanie Gaudet

Published online: 8 May 2008 # Springer Science + Business Media B.V. 2008

Abstract The social engagement of Canada’s immigrants continues to be the subject of debates. Most studies indicate a lower level of involvement, particularly for recent immigrants. This article investigates the possible causes of this lower participation by analyzing data from the 1998 General Social Survey (GSS), which provides precise measures of two different types of social engagement: volunteering and social participation. Three results stand out. First, formal volunteering and broader social participation do not display the same level of variability across groups. Second, the positive family effect usually observed does not apply to immigrants: the presence of children does not significantly increase their social engagement. Third, there is a strong gender component: whereas Canadian women are more likely to participate, immigrant women are not. Other factors (age, income, education), on the other hand, do seem to apply to both groups. We suggest that these results contribute to a new explanation of immigrant social engagement: Rather than being marked by a general immigration differential, newcomers to Canada seem to be left out of very specific, gender-influenced modes of participation, specifically, those related to the family, children, and schooling. Résumé L’engagement social des immigrants demeure un sujet d’actualité au Canada. La plupart des analyses montrent une baisse de l’engagement social, particulièrement chez les récents immigrants. Dans cet article, les auteurs analysent les causes de cette baisse. Ils utilisent les données de l’ESG 1998 sur l’emploi du temps qui permettent de mesurer deux types d’engagement social: le bénévolat et la participation sociale. Trois résultats importants ressortent de cette analyse. Premièr-

Philippe Couton and Stéphanie Gaudet contributed equally to this article.

P. Couton (*) : S. Gaudet Department of Sociology and Anthropology, University of Ottawa, 55 Laurier Avenue East, Ottawa, ON, Canada K1N 6N5 e-mail: [email protected] S. Gaudet e-mail: [email protected]


P. Couton, S. Gaudet

ement, l’engagement social formel, tel que le bénévolat, varie différemment de l’engagement social informel – la participation sociale. Deuxièmement, le facteur qui influence le plus la participation des Canadiens nés au pays ne s’applique pas aux immigrants: la présence d’enfants au sein du ménage n’a pas d’effets positifs sur l’engagement social des parents. Finalement, l’analyse selon les rapports sociaux de sexe permet de constater une grande disparité entre les groupes de femmes. Tandis que les femmes nées au Canada sont les plus susceptibles de participer, les femmes immigrantes sont les plus susceptibles d’être retirées des activités d’engagement social. D’autres facteurs tels que l’âge, les revenus ou le niveau d’éducation ont la même influence pour les migrants ou les non migrants. En bref, plutôt que de constater une baisse généralisée de l’engagement social des immigrants, nous notons une différenciation selon le genre. Keywords Social participation . Immigrants . Canada Mots-clés Participation sociale . Immigrants . Canada

Introduction With immigration rising to record levels in recent years, better understanding the modes of social engagement of this population (volunteering, community involvement, social support between individuals, etc.) is becoming increasingly important.1 All of the actors involved in the field of immigration, from immigrant communities themselves (Tang et al. 2003), to policy makers (SPCO 1989, 2004), key members of the voluntary sector (ITWP 2004) and academic researchers in Canada and elsewhere (Hopkins 2006; Germain 2004; Jacobs and Tillie 2004; Fennema and Tillie 2001; Li 2004; Nee and Sanders 2001; Majka and Mullan 2002) concur that this is one of the critical issues facing immigrants in Canada and in other host societies. A growing body of empirical research addresses the issue (Li 2004, 2003; Aizelwood and Pendakur 2005; De Long 2005; Scott et al. 2006). Most evidence seems to indicate a significantly lower level of engagement on the part of immigrants. Some research even suggests that, as a result, immigration poses a challenge to broader societal cohesion (Jansen et al. 2006). As with many other aspects of immigrant settlement and adaptation, convergence with the native-born population increases over time, but the social engagement gap never fully closes. This persisting difference is not surprising. For many recent immigrants social engagement is understandably not a high priority. Some are even suspicious of volunteering as simply free labour, when they find it difficult to secure paid work at a level corresponding to their qualifications (Vatz-Laarousi 2005). Researchers point out that aggregate levels of immigrant social engagement are in any case not far below those of non-immigrants and rise steadily with time spent in Canada (Scott et al. 2006), seemingly confirming that it is simply part of the adjustment process all immigrants undergo. For the sake of clarity, we use the term “social engagement” to discuss the broader concept, while “social participation” and “volunteering” are reserved for more specific forms, described below.


Rethinking Social Participation: The Case of Immigrants in Canada


What remains unexplained, however, is whether lower social engagement affects all immigrants more or less equally, and consists indeed in a simple migration effect, or whether it affects particular groups of immigrants differently. To study immigrants as a single category is not necessarily helpful, especially since their social and economic lives are often more affected by life course events, labour market conditions and demographic dimensions (age and gender, in particular) than nonimmigrants. The important question is hence to identify the specific correlates of the lower participation of immigrants. If particular groups are affected within the immigrant population, what are some of the possible causes of this participation differential? This article proposes to answer some of these questions in two different and novel ways. First, it seeks to differentiate between what we term social participation and volunteering. Many of the analyses of social engagement focus on involvement in the voluntary sector as their main dependent variable. For many groups, including immigrants, social engagement may take a broader range of forms than third-sector volunteering. It is therefore important to not restrict the analysis of immigrant social engagement to simply comparing their rate of formal volunteering to that of the rest of the population. Second, we seek to better conceptualize social participation theoretically and empirically by basing our analysis on time-use data, which are rarely used in research on this topic. We use the 1998 GSSS (cycle12) to analyse time given on a free basis to other citizens. This is also a better way to account for the social engagement of a broad range of populations than traditional surveys that rely on retrospective questions (“in the past year,” etc.). It allows us to compare standard measures of volunteering to time-use variables and gain a better understanding of new practices of social engagement. Thus, this article adds an original conception of social practices related to social participation and better evidence to analyse how immigrants compare to the rest of the population.

What is Social Participation? Social participation, as we define it here, encompasses a number of practices that includes voluntary sector activities as well as a range of other forms of interaction within the public and private spheres (helping neighbours, getting involved in informal groups, etc.). As such, it is broader in both form and consequence than some of the other types of social engagement often discussed in the literature (social capital, civil society participation, volunteering). This is particularly significant for segments of the population whose social engagement may not follow the standard organizational volunteering model (which includes immigrants, minorities, women, and others). Voluntary work and time given to others in the private and in the public sphere are vital sites of social citizenship (what some have described as Tocquevillian “habits of the heart”). They are the spaces where most individuals can be socially included. These activities foster personal and collective identities, can relieve participants from discriminatory social forces, and may encourage individuals to promote social justice (Shah 2007; Wakefield and Poland 2005). Participating in a range of non-state nonmarket social activities can even be considered a social right since it is an expectation of democratic institutions (Marshall 1964).


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Social participation is of particular concern in contemporary societies driven by labour market participation, because social organisation and policy development are dominated by the market. The latest debates on social cohesion (McDaniel 2003) and social capital reveal that social scientists and citizens are chiefly concerned with the issue of democratic participation and social togetherness. Simply put, scholars and citizens are concerned with the forms and the strength of social commitment in post-industrial societies. These societies are typically described as more fragmented and more individualistic than what seemed to be the norm in postwar North America and Western Europe. This fragmentation is thought to be directly related to the decline of social engagement. Most of the research on social engagement is influenced by social capital theories, in an effort to understand and estimate the output of participation (Curtis et al. 2001, 2003). It is less concerned with uncovering new forms of social participation than with attempting to locate the normative aspects of social practices. What creates trust and cohesion? Which political or social practices lead to a greater social output? Are they the foundation of a good society? By asking these sorts of question, these approaches generally do not attempt to understand new forms of social and civic engagement, located at the intersection of the private and the public. In the United States, the notion of social capital has received increased attention as a result of the work of Robert Putnam (2000) showing that formal civic engagement has declined. Increasing time spent in the labour market by women and men, suburbanization, and time devoted to electronic entertainment are some of the obstacles to civic engagement underlined by Putnam. His main objective was to show that Americans were spending their time in more individualized activities instead of bonding with their neighbours, colleagues or fellow citizens. In other words, Americans were neglecting the very foundation of democracy, as famously described by Tocqueville. A strong criticism of Putnam’s thesis was that he neglected new forms of civic engagement (Portes 1998, Skocpol and Fiorina 1999). For example, the decline in participation in traditional organizations such as the Boy Scouts does not necessarily mean a decline in social commitment and political participation in general. It can indicate a growing interest in new practices and the waning appeal of more traditional forms of participation. This argument has been supported by qualitative research on different populations (Ion and Ravon 1998), particularly on youth (Gaudet and Charbonneau 2002; Quéniart and Jacques 2004), women (Rossi 2001), and immigrant and ethnic groups (Labelle and Rocher 2004; Germain 2004; Hopkins 2006). Although critics emphasize the importance of understanding informal types of participation, few theoretical frameworks and research designs have emerged as a response to this concern. Most of the studies focusing on civic engagement are still based on traditional dimensions, which includes organizational membership, time given to political or community organizations, volunteering in formal groups, etc. (Curtis et al. 2001; Labelle 1974). A number of these traditional studies also reinforce the separation between the public sphere of paid work and the private sphere of care, help, and support (Neysmith and Reitsma-Street 2005). Often, they ignore contemporary research on women’s social engagement, which shows that they give their time in employment related groups and family and friendship networks (Roos et al. 2006). The literature on social policies and welfare regimes highlights the importance of caring as a social practice that should be taken into

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account to support equality among citizens and between men and women (EspingAndersen 1999, Fraser 2005; O’Connor et al. 1999; Haas 2005). The increase in women’s labour market participation weakens our social organization based on the traditional division of labour in which women had the larger share of caring activities. The adult worker model family that is now assumed to be the norm in modern states has yet to properly integrate caring activities (Lewis and Giullari 2005). In Canada, some authors such as Paul Kershaw (2005) recommend the development of an analytical and political framework that takes into account the balance between caring and earning obligations in the definition of citizen’s rights and responsibilities in order to enhance equity between men and women. To achieve this, one needs to revisit the traditional boundary between the private and public sphere. In this article, we accordingly define social participation as all the time an individual gives to help and support people outside his or her household. We focus on activities outside the household because we want to understand how a person interacts with others outside their immediate family. This should capture important gender differences. Research on time-use data shows that women are still more involved than men in social engagement activities as well as in domestic work (Hook 2004; Sayer 2005). In Canada, women’s social participation has not dramatically changed since the 1970s, but in the US, some have observed a strong decrease of women’s participation in civic life (Andersen et al. 2006). Many authors underline the importance of revisiting the notion of participation in civil society (Chambers and Kymlicka 2001). Is practicing ethical consumerism part of the public sphere (Stolle et al. 2005)? Is helping a close friend or supporting a relative strictly in the private sphere or should these activities be considered as practices of citizenship (Pennec 2004)? Should we consider “caring” a form of social participation (Bowden 1997)? Feminist theories underline the fact that help and support for siblings should be considered a form of social participation. By giving their time to individuals for whom they have a moral responsibility but not a legal one, individuals are not pursuing their personal end and they are indirectly contributing to the public good. For these reasons, we count as social participation practices that may otherwise be considered to be part of the domestic sphere such as unpaid babysitting.2 Even if these examples concern people and situations related to the private sphere, they are indicative of how individuals are committed to people beyond their immediate family (Wuthnow 1991). These commitments are often of public interest, and are therefore a policy-relevant dimension of social participation. This might be particularly relevant for immigrants whose public and private lives often occur in two different cultures. For this group, volunteering and social participation may be very different phenomena, affected by different variables. Our operational definition of social participation takes into account these multidimensional debates. We define it as time freely devoted to helping and supporting individuals, groups, and organizations outside the market and the state. These practices are a direct measure of individual social commitment that go beyond


Although we do not include strictly familial activities, including care of spouses and children.


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the moral and political implications of social capital and the frequent emphasis on membership in formal organizations. The goal of our analysis is to grasp different social participation practices, to move beyond the traditional model. Routine, ongoing practices often matter more than commitment to moral principles or formal membership to the building of trust and reciprocity (Jansen et al. 2006). This broader notion of social participation stems from gift-giving theories developed by Mauss and revisited by Jacques T. Godbout (1992, 2000). Both argued that in contemporary society, gifts of time, presents, and hospitality circulate through social ties. In other words, analysing what circulates helps us to understand social ties by considering all activities outside the market and the state. The data we use, described in more detail below, allow us to separate and compare social participation and volunteering and to assess how they are in turn affected by different variables, particularly immigrant status. What we call “traditional volunteering” is therefore restricted to the usual measure of social engagement: membership and voluntary participation in formal, third-sector organizations, on a yearly basis. What we call “social participation” is, by contrast, a measure of ongoing community involvement. It covers a much broader range of activities, over a narrower period of time: one week instead of one year.

Assumptions and Hypotheses The following analysis is based on two levels of hypotheses. First is the expected difference between traditional volunteering and social participation, as discussed above. This can be expressed as follows: Hypothesis 1:

Both measures of volunteering and social participation are similarly affected by the same set of variables, but social participation is more stable and less sensitive to the usual correlates of volunteering, including immigrant status.

Social participation is a more general measure of connectedness than traditional volunteering: it captures ongoing, local, informal forms of engagement, rather than the more remote, formal, and sporadic forms of volunteering. We therefore expect social participation to be more evenly distributed between both immigrants and nonimmigrants, and between other social categories (age, income groups, etc.). We generally expect that immigrants are less likely to participate, as measured by both types of engagement. We do not reliably and systematically include time spent in Canada in our analysis, for the following reason: one of our main objectives is to establish whether immigrants differ from non-immigrants and whether particular groups of immigrants (women, parents, etc.) differ from each other. Time spent in Canada is distributed more or less equally among these categories, and should not affect the second part of the analysis, although it should be kept in mind that some convergence does occur over time for most immigrants, as other studies have confirmed. Our second set of hypotheses concerns the differential effect of various independent variables on the volunteering and social participation of immigrants and nonimmigrants. These can be grouped into two categories: labour market effect and life

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course effect. These are partly guided by the recent findings of the National Survey of Giving, Volunteering, and Participating (NSGVP) and other studies discussed above. People who volunteer do so mostly because they have been asked to participate, often at work. Individuals with a large and diverse network are more likely to be asked to participate than others. Canadians active in the labour market typically have a denser network than people outside the labour market. This might be an explanation for the greater participation of workers in formal, third sector organizations. Besides, many associations and voluntary organizations are workplace related (the United Way, work committees for social life, unions, sports teams, etc.). Many employers also actively encourage external volunteering and charitable giving. Related to this second hypothesis is the expectation that income is a strong determinant of volunteering and social participation. Higher income is usually associated with higher socioeconomic status and a range of social expectations and obligations, including sitting on various boards, joining professional or related nonprofit organisations, and so on. We therefore expect that both a person’s main activity (whether and how they are involved in the labour market) and their income have the impact described below: Hypothesis 2:

Labour force participation has a strong positive impact on volunteering, a moderate positive impact on social participation, but both effects are considerably weaker for immigrants.

A key element of this group of hypotheses is that immigrants are much more likely to experience difficult labour market conditions, especially underemployment, unemployment, and low income (Beaujot 2002; Reitz 2001; Couton 2002). We therefore expect the volunteering and social participation of immigrants to be less affected by labour market variables than non-immigrants: their social participation should in particular be less directly tied to work, which is likely less socially integrating than for the native-born. As stated previously, we also expect social participation to be less strongly affected by these variables than traditional volunteering for both groups. An important dimension to keep in mind when considering the relationship between work and social engagement is that Canadians are experiencing more conflicts between their work and family obligations and greater stress related to these conflicts (Duxburry and Higgins 2002, 2003). Individuals working long hours may have less time available for participation. Labour market variables may have a complex effect on social participation and volunteering, in other words: working is often a direct cause of social involvement, but demanding schedules and heavy workloads may conversely be an impediment. The second group of hypotheses considered here falls under the life course category. Support, participation and volunteering are often related to life events or life course phases (Gaudet and Reed 2004). It is already well-known that age is a very strong determinant of social engagement. Young to middle-aged adults are in particular often described as the demographic group most likely to get involved in their community. According to the National Survey on Participation and Volunteering, conducted in 1998 and 2000, people aged between 35 and 44 years old are more likely to participate than other age groups. This is likely due to multi-stranded


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participation in work-related, parental, and family-oriented social activities. Since migration often occurs during this important period (the majority of immigrants are in the 25–44 age group at landing; CIC 2006), immigrants are more likely to experience life course disruptions that negatively impact their social engagement. This relationship can be expressed by the following hypothesis: Hypothesis 3:

Volunteering and social participation peak in early to midadulthood, but to a lesser degree for immigrants.

This is in part due to parenthood. In addition to age groups, we therefore expect that parents are more likely to participate, independently of age. Research has demonstrated that living with children aged 6 years and over is one of the most influential correlates of higher social participation. This remains true despite the fact that parents experience important stress related to life-balance issues. Canadians who participate are most likely to do so in sports-related associations. We can therefore suppose that parents are more likely to be asked to give help and support for these kinds of activities. We expect that immigrants will also benefit from parental effects on social participation, but to a lesser degree than non-immigrants. It is well-known that immigrant women for instance often suffer from multiple forms of discrimination and social isolation. Language, cultural expectations, social and economic discrimination may combine to decrease the life course impact on social participation and volunteering. Having children is not only a personal life course event, it is also a time many adults become aware of the ethical significance of social commitment and social responsibility (Gaudet 2005). This may be more difficult to achieve for immigrants confronted with cultural adaptation.

Data and Methods The data analysed for this paper are drawn from the GSS (cycle 12) carried out in 1998 by Statistics Canada. This cycle of the GSS focuses on the time use of Canadians. A sample of 10,749 respondents in 10 different provinces, aged 15 years old and over completed the 12-section questionnaire, with a 77.6% response rate. The main section of cycle 12 consisted in a diary where each respondent described the minutes devoted to several activities on the reference day (the day before the interview, with respondents spread over the course of week)3. The other section used for this paper is related to unpaid work and volunteering. We use two different dependent variables, corresponding to the analytical distinction between traditional volunteering and social participation discussed above. The first one is related to activities with a voluntary organization on a yearly basis. The question asked is worth reprinting, to further illustrate our proposed comparison: E8: The next questions refer to your participation in a variety of unpaid volunteer activities helping various groups or organizations. 3

Weekly rates should therefore be interpreted with caution: each participant was asked about his or her participation on a given day. But since they were spread over the course of a week, we opted to interpret them as weekly rates.

Rethinking Social Participation: The Case of Immigrants in Canada


In the past 12 months, have you volunteered through a group or organization? This is therefore a direct measure of participation rates in formal organizations over the course of a year. It captures all the features of the traditional volunteering perspective we discuss above: a long time frame (a year), a formal, organizational focus, and reliance on recalled information rather than recent activities. The overall rate of traditional volunteering of this sample is 31.5%, comparable to that of many other studies (Reed and Selbee 2002; Hall et al. 2001, 2006). The second dependent variable of interest consists of a code of activity system created by Statistics Canada (see Appendix). This variable (VLNTORGN) represents the total duration of time (in minutes) for social support, civic and voluntary activity on the reference day. Duration of time for the activities listed below is included in VLNTORGN (we have removed four of the components of the original variable that reflected strictly domestic activities, e.g. spousal care). This variable, in other words, reflects what we call general social participation because it includes time devoted to formal social participation (minutes given in an organization – in the public sphere) and informal participation (minutes mostly spent in the private sphere among the secondary and primary networks) as opposed to simple volunteering identified above. The activities included in it are described in the table in Appendix. We use this variable in two different ways. First, each respondent who answered spending at least one minute in one of these activities on the reference day was counted as a participant. In other words, the original continuous time variable was transformed into a binary yes/no variable. In total, 13.6% of the weighted sample reported spending at least one minute of their time for support, help and volunteering on the reference day (note that only about 0.1% of respondents reported 1 or 2 minutes, with the first significant cluster of responses occurring at 5 minutes, for obvious reasons. We nevertheless preserved the “more than zero” threshold for the sake of simplicity). We also use the original variable (duration in minutes) to calculate and compare average amount of time spent in social participation activities for a range of groups. This provides additional information about different modes of social participation across selected groups. In sum, we use three different measures in our analysis: Traditional volunteering (rates %) Social participation (rates %) Social participation (minutes)

Participation (yes/no) during the past year (Question E8) At least one minute of participation in several activities (see Appendix) Average amount of time spent in several activities (see Appendix)

Dichotomous Dichotomous Continuous

The results reported below are in the form of descriptive tables and figures, comparing the various participation rates of a number of distinct groups (immigrants, non-immigrants, labour force participants, etc.). As noted, the time-use data also allow us to compare an average amount of time devoted to social participation. This combination of descriptive methods is the most effective way to ascertain the participation differentials of given groups (rather than measuring the impact of particular variables on the participation of individuals). Multivariate models may be developed at a later point to confirm the effect of some of the variables we use. But


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the key assumption of our analysis is that major categorical differences should emerge both between volunteering and social participation and between immigrants and non-immigrants. Large differences of this type can only be measured using classic comparative procedures (cross-tabulations and comparisons of means), with their associated levels of significance (for Chi-square and analysis of variance [ANOVA] tables, respectively). Unless otherwise noted, all observed rates and comparisons of means are significant at or below the .05 level, for the weighted sample. The large size of the sample and the magnifying effect of the weighting yield high levels of significance, which should therefore be interpreted cautiously. They nevertheless tend to confirm that the results we report here are not the result of sampling fluctuations.

Overview of Social Participation: Comparing Immigrants and Non-Immigrants The 1998 GSS confirms that by most measures of social engagement, immigrants do indeed display lower rates. In terms of formal volunteering, for instance (in a group or organisation), native-born Canadians report a yearly rate of 36% against 26% for immigrants. This 10-point difference is not unexpected, and concurs with the results of other studies and surveys. In terms of social participation, the difference between native-born and immigrants is less sharp: 14.5% and 11.7%, respectively. This provides some confirmation of our first hypothesis. The often observed differential between immigrants and non-immigrants is largely attributable to traditional volunteering, while their social participation, measured as an actual social practice, is not very different. In terms of volunteering, to put our baseline result in context, other studies have reported similar aggregate findings, although none has used a more precise measure than participation over a 12-month period. The 2000 National Survey of Giving and Volunteering for instance reported a 26.7% overall rate of volunteering (see Reed and Selbee 2002; Hall et al. 2001), while the reported rate for immigrants was 21% (Scott et al. 2006). The more recent 2003 GSS reports a very similar difference to the 1998 GSS analyzed here, for both immigrants and Canadian-born vs.: About 35% of the Canadian-born reported volunteering for groups and organizations, against 29% of immigrants. The results of the 2004 National Survey of Giving and Volunteering reports a 45% overall rate of volunteering among the Canadian adult population. This increase in the overall volunteering rate is partly due to important methodological changes in the 2004 survey. However, immigrants still reported volunteering at a significantly lower rate (42%) than non-immigrants (48%) (Hall et al. 2006). According to the 2002 Ethnic Diversity Survey (EDS), 46% of the population reported being a member of, or participating in, groups or organizations during the past year. The formal engagement rate of immigrants in that survey ranges from 34% for recent immigrants to 41% for those who had been in Canada for several decades. It is also clear from the EDS that how immigrants participate differs markedly from non-immigrants. Participation in sports-related activities for instance was reported to be much lower for recent immigrants. Some of the observed differences between surveys could reflect an underlying trend, but are also likely caused by differences in question wording, survey designs, and response rates. What they all report is a

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significantly lower rate of volunteering for immigrants, further supporting our results. Other results from the 1998 GSS, discussed below, are also broadly consistent with comparable findings. Women for instance typically participate more, as do respondents with higher education and income. Also consistent with other surveys is the fact that Quebec has among the lowest rate of formal volunteering, although in this survey it is comparable to that of Ontario. The 1998 GSS data are in other words broadly similar to other studies and the difference we find between immigrants and non-immigrants clearly seems to reflect the underlying social reality.

Social Participation and the Labour Market: Income and Activity Effects A first approach to help understand the factors that affect the social participation of immigrants is to compare the impact of key independent variables on our independent variables using basic contingency tables. We first compare the effect of income on the volunteering and social participation of immigrants and non-immigrants (see Graph 1). Concurring again with other studies, and in line with our second hypothesis, yearly formal volunteering increases with income both for immigrants and nonimmigrants. The difference between the two groups varies across income groups, but no clear pattern emerges: both are similarly positively affected by rising income. In sharp contrast, social participation seems to remain flat for both groups, at most

Graph 1 Volunteering, social participation, and income


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income levels. This pattern provides an additional element of explanation and further support of our hypothesis: while traditional yearly volunteering is strongly affected by income, actual reported social participation (time-use, weekly) is not. Income, in other words, does not seem to be the key determinant of social participation measured in this way, for immigrants and non-immigrants alike. Equally important is the fact that the social participation of immigrants is very similar to that of non-immigrants, and in several income categories even exceeds it (in the important middle-class range of $50–100K for instance). Not only does income not affect social participation in general, it also has little differential effect on immigrants. The opposite is true of volunteering, with immigrants reporting consistently lower levels of involvement. In some important income groups, the difference between immigrants and non-immigrants reaches 15 points (with the notable exception of the $50–59K group). In sum, while some immigrants seem to be left out of at least some volunteering activities in a number of important income groups, their social participation in those same groups is actually higher than that of non-immigrants. But income is only one, indirect measure of labour market participation. If it shows little impact on social participation, what about other labour market variables? Statistics from the National Survey of Giving, Volunteering and Participating (2006) show that people participating in the labour market volunteer more than others in formal organizations. This seems contradictory because one could believe that people with more free time like students, retirees, etc., might participate more in time-giving activities. However, US time use surveys used by Putnam and others suggest that when people have more time, they mostly use it for leisure related to technology (TV, computers, video games). This also seems supported by the NSVGP showing that the participation rate of retirees in traditional volunteering is lower than that of workers. Our analysis of social participation from the 1998 time use survey partly supports this conclusion: 48.8% of Canadians giving at least 1 minute of their time in a week are involved in paid work as their main activity. However, when breaking down the population of Canadian-born and immigrants, we can observe how their main activity in everyday life shapes their social engagement (see Table 1). The distribution of social participation and volunteering differ markedly over activity categories. Our results show that while labour force participation does have a strong impact on volunteering, with large differences between immigrants and nonimmigrants, it only has a more moderate impact on social participation. Some of the differences in volunteering rates are considerably lessened, and even reversed for some activity categories (students are a striking example). In one particular category, however, the direction of the relationship is maintained, even magnified. Nonimmigrants looking after a home and/or children have a significantly higher rate of social participation (19%) than immigrants (11%). This population is mostly made up of female homemakers (91.3%). The strong participation of Canadian-born women is congruent with the fact that women living with children are more likely to participate than the rest of the population. These results indicate that activities in the private sphere can have a strong influence on the social sphere. They also tend to indicate that this intersection between the private and the public sphere operates differently for immigrant homemakers. This difference might be explained by the

Rethinking Social Participation: The Case of Immigrants in Canada


Table 1 Main activity, participation and volunteering Social participation and volunteering rates by main activity and place of birth Main activity Paid work Looking for employment In school Housework/childcare Retirement Othera




13.1 36.4 16.6 30.2 8.5 42.9 19.1 37.4 19.1 30.9 18 26.5

10.1 26 13.7 18.3 14.2 32.7 11.4 30.4 15 24.8 15,4 17.7

Social Participation Volunteering Social Participation Volunteering Social Participation Volunteering Social Participation Volunteering Social Participation Volunteering Social Participation Volunteering

«Other» includes persons on parental leave and long term sick leave

fact that immigrant women are more likely to be left out of social participation (because of language or social isolation) or that they may have more time constraints because of their family obligations (children and older parents) and lack of social support (because of the disrupting effect of migration on social networks). Here we could ask whether family status or the language barrier is the most important impediment for immigrant women participation rates. Some of the evidence discussed below sheds more light on this question. Secondly, what is striking between the participation rates of the Canadian-born and immigrants is the role of institutions on immigrants’ participatory practices. As already noted, immigrant students have a much higher rate of social participation (14%) than their Canadian-born counterparts (8%). Learning institutions seem to be a place where immigrants have many opportunities to participate. The labour market also appears to be an institution that partly supports social participation among immigrants, although to a lesser extent. Immigrants active in the labour market (working in a paid work or looking for employment) have rates of participation somewhat lover than non-immigrants, but the difference is not as great as for volunteering. This part of the analysis also supports the fact that the social engagement differential is not the result of an overall migration effect. While the volunteering difference does seem to be evenly distributed across categories, social participation tells a different story. In particular, immigrant students seem to be very engaged while their homemaking mothers seem much more socially isolated. This is further confirmed in what follows.

Life Course and Participation: Age and Family Status Our first hypothesis in this section concerns the effect of age on social participation. A first direct measure of this effect is obtained by comparing the reported participa-


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tion rates of various age groups. Studies show that volunteering fluctuates across the life course (Scott et al. 2006). Young to middle adulthood is typically the age of highest social engagement, in part because it coincides with peak labour force participation and involvement in child-rearing activities (with schools, sports groups, etc.). Family status in general is one of the factors exerting the strongest influence on participation. Being the parent of young children augments the chances that one will be asked to participate in school boards or sport activities and to give time for traditional volunteering. When comparing time devoted for traditional volunteering and time given for social participatory practices, striking variations appears (Graph 2). First, the age effect on the yearly volunteering of the Canadian born is the expected pattern of peaking in adulthood (35–44) followed by a steady decline. However, social participation practices measured by our time-use data show an inverse trend: a steady increase over time. This indicates that traditional measures of engagement do not necessarily reflect actual participatory practices. It also shows that the two measures we compare here describe different underlying social processes. Traditional volunteering is strongly and positively associated with income and negatively associated with age, while social participation, as we define it here, shows inverse trends: flat across income groups and positively associated with increasing age groups. It seems that for native-born Canadians, time-giving on a weekly basis steadily increases through the life course. Although the typical age of parenthood is not the period of the highest rate

Graph 2 Volunteering, social participation, and age

Rethinking Social Participation: The Case of Immigrants in Canada


of social participation, Graph 2 still shows a significant increase among the 35–44 age group. The pattern is much less marked for immigrants. First, the 35–44 age group is a low point of traditional volunteering for immigrants. This supports part of our lifecourse hypothesis: immigrants do not seem to benefit as much as non-immigrants from the positive impact of life course events. Immigrants’ highest rate of volunteering is among the younger age group (confirming the high rate of school-going respondents noted above). In this paper also, adulthood seems to be a time of declining or flat rates of engagement. The trend is confirmed when looking at social participation: initial high levels of participation in the younger age group are followed by a decline and stagnation throughout adulthood until a moderate increase in older age. These results are probably strongly influenced by the timing of arrival in Canada, which would require further study to ascertain. However, we can say that some specific life course periods clearly affect their social participation in a direction different from that of non-immigrants. For example, what is typically the peak time of social participation for non-immigrants, is a low point for immigrants. This scissor effect seems to indicate that the time period of parenthood and labour market involvement has a negative impact on the social participation of immigrants. Scott et al. (2006) already observed that age is one of the most important factors affecting social participation, especially for immigrants. Young immigrants in their study of the NSGVP reported a participation rate nearly half that of young Canadianborn respondents: 18% against 31%. This is no entirely supported in this study. The greatest difference in terms of yearly volunteering is not between younger age groups (15–24, with rates of 36.7% for the Canadian-born and 30.7% for immigrants) but for adults aged 34–45. While the Canadian-born of that age group report the highest rate of volunteering (44%), immigrants report the lowest, with only 23% involved in the voluntary sector. In terms of social participation, young immigrants in our data conversely reported significantly higher rates of involvement, with a decline in young adulthood followed by a slow increase across the life course (until old age). For non-immigrants, in other words, the transition to adulthood is a period of markedly increased social participation and volunteering, while for immigrants, there is a significant decline in both. Our hypothesis 3 was only partly correct. Not only is the transition to adulthood indeed not as markedly positive for immigrant volunteering and social participation, it is actually a setback. However, the gap between immigrants and non-immigrants is clearly less pronounced for social participation than for volunteering.

Parents, Women, and Social Participation To further explore the life course effect on social participation, we look at the impact of the presence of children. Some of these results are described in Graph 3, which also summarizes some of the preceding results, and other comparative figures. It is already well-known that having children is one of the factors directly contributing to increased social engagement. The family strongly contributes to building social ties with the broader community (Furstenberg 2005). And indeed, for the overall sample, those with children living at home report a yearly volunteering rate of 35%, significantly higher than the overall rate of 29.2% for respondents with no children


P. Couton, S. Gaudet

Graph 3 Volunteering and social participation, parents, women, and other groups

living at home. For immigrants, the presence of children at home has no real effect: parents have a volunteering rate of 26.6%, against 26.4% for non-parents. This pales in comparison to the effect of children on the yearly volunteering of non immigrants, among the highest in the data, at 41.5%. There is apparently little family effect on formal volunteering for immigrants. Even more significant is the fact that the family effect is reversed for immigrant women: the rate of formal volunteering for immigrant women with children living at home is 23.4%, against 29.9% for immigrant women without children. In terms of social participation, immigrant women have an already low rate (11.8%), which the presence of children actually decreases (10.8%). This is also in sharp contrast to native-born Canadian women, who register one of the highest rates of the sample, 7 percentage points higher than their immigrant counterparts. More generally, Graph 3 is a useful visual display of the overall contrast between immigrants and non-immigrants across measures of volunteering and social participation: while for the native-born, young adults, women with children, and parents in general display among the highest rates of participation for any groups, the reverse is true for immigrants. The trend is less marked for social participation, but it is nevertheless maintained. Immigrant women with children seem considerably disadvantaged in terms of social engagement compared to Canadian-born women. Other research confirms this. According to Scott et al. (2006), the 2000 NSGVP, showed no impact of having children on immigrant volunteering.

Rethinking Social Participation: The Case of Immigrants in Canada


Impact on Time Spent Participating Simply determining the proportion of people who devote some of their time to social participation only answers part of the question. How much time is devoted to it is perhaps an even more important dimension of social participation. Research has already shown that a small proportion of people often give a disproportionate amount of both time and money to voluntary activities (Reed and Selbee 2002). A small number of individuals spending much of their time volunteering and participating can equate a large number of people participating minimally, in terms of its social impact. The time-use data we use here provides us with a direct and very precise measure of the amount of time spent in a number of activities, including social participation. Since we have been analysing differential patterns of volunteering and social participation between various groups, a simple way to determine whether these patterns also hold in terms of the amount of time given is to calculate the average amount of time devoted to social participation for given groups. Note that this measure is only available for what we refer to as social participation (weekly, etc.), which is another advantage of this variable over traditional volunteering. It provides a direct and recent measure of actual behaviour, including who participates and how much they participate, which would be nearly impossible with a retrospective, 12month variable. Graph 4 summarizes these observed patterns. The average amount of time spent on social participation (for those who participate) for the entire sample is about 2 hours a week (127 minutes). A first surprising result is that there is little difference between immigrants and non-immigrants. Immigrants spend 120 minutes per week in social participation activities, while Canadian-born respondents spend 128 minutes. Whereas a slightly smaller proportion of immigrants participate at all, as we reported earlier, those who do participate spend about the same amount of time doing so as non-immigrants. In some cases, they spend significantly more time doing so. That is the case of the 35–44 age group, whose mean participation is among the highest of the sample (partly making up for their low participation rate). This is a partial confirmation of one of our hypotheses that the social participation differential between immigrants and non-immigrants should be lower than the difference measured in traditional volunteering. There is little difference in other words in how much immigrants participate when they do participate. Equally surprising is the inverse relationship between participation rates and average time devoted to participation for many of the groups under consideration. Men for instance are less likely to participate but devote more time to it on average than women. But the largest difference is between parents and non-parents, for both immigrants and non-immigrants. While parents are much more likely to participate, they spend a much lower amount of time doing so. This may suggest that parents engage in social participation in ways that differ from non-parents, perhaps more sporadically. Clearly, though, immigrant women with children remain disproportionately left out of social participation. They have both the lowest incidence of social participation and devote the lowest amount of time to it of any group. This further supports our findings that adult immigrant women with children seem to experience the greatest obstacles to social engagement.


P. Couton, S. Gaudet

Graph 4 Time spent on social participation, selected groups

Conclusion These results first confirm that although the rate of volunteering of immigrants is indeed substantially lower than that of native-born Canadians, the difference measured in terms of social participation is less substantial. Second, and perhaps more importantly, this differential in both rates does not appear to be spread evenly among all immigrants. Specific groups are disproportionately affected, especially those that should see their rate of participation reach their peak (young, working adults). Parenthood, particularly for immigrant women, does not seem to have the strong positive effect observed in non-immigrants. This is very clear for traditional volunteering, less so for social participation. We suggest that the observed deficit may therefore be twofold: immigrants seem to be left out of some forms of social engagement related specifically to parenting and more broadly to the life-course, including labour market participation and age. Much of the life-course involvement is often related to the education of children (PTA, school activities, organized sports, etc.), which immigrants may have difficulties integrating depending on their age at arrival in the country. The difference in terms of social participation is much lower and would seem to indicate that immigrant parents are

Rethinking Social Participation: The Case of Immigrants in Canada


not shut out of all forms of social participation. For women this difference remains however very substantial. Further analysis will need to be conducted on the determinants of this participation among women. Are they at a disadvantage because of the language or because of the number of children they have? Although we know that the fertility rate of immigrant women is declining, a multivariate analysis would be necessary here to confirm these hypotheses. Other than language and family status, the possibility exists that the kind of social participation offered to parents is not necessarily in tune with the cultural habits of immigrant women. For example, coaching sports activities or leading cultural activities might not be accepted in some cultures. There is evidence that volunteering is experienced differently for some immigrants. Volunteering for some may be largely an activity of the well-off. For others, it may be encouraged or restricted by religion (De Long 2005). Attitudes toward volunteerism may also be influenced by the absence of such a system in the home country, or the lack of independence of civil society. This may be especially true for immigrant women who have not had any experience with some types of social engagement prior to migration. But volunteering also seems to be mostly affected by the time and material constraints experienced by immigrants. It is already well-known that migration places a higher burden on women than on men (Man 2004). Women’s social network structures tend to be particularly disrupted after migration. Networks of support and participation survive migration, and often directly contribute to it, but are frequently transformed and diminished. Multi-generational households, common in many sending countries, for instance tend to be far less common after migration (Salaff and Greve 2004). This frequently forces women to scale down their careers, and focus on domestic work. Added to the fact that women are more likely to be heavily deskilled after migration, this creates a situation of vulnerability and isolation (Man 2004). Another possible aspect that may negatively affect the social participation of immigrants is the difficulties many experience upon entering the labour force. The entry earnings of recent immigrants have been estimated to be 40% below that of Canadian-born workers in 2000. This gap doubled between 1980 and 2000 (Frenette and Morissette 2005). Immigrants, in other words, are experiencing extremely precarious and worsening conditions upon entering the Canadian labour market. This may be one of the factors negatively affecting their rate of social engagement. Education cannot be blamed for either poor labour market integration or low social participation: immigrants have much higher educational levels on average. Over 40% of recent immigrants for instance have post-secondary degrees, compared to about 20% for the Canadian-born (Frenette and Morissette 2005). Our study furthermore seems to indicate that young school-going immigrants have high rates of social participation. A strong possibility exists, however, that the lower social participation of immigrants is partly the result of their geographic location. The vast majority of immigrants to Canada reside in three major cities. Other research has already observed that lower social capital (of which social participation is one aspect) is a result of city effect: large community size tends to decrease community involvement, group membership, etc. (Aizelwood and Pendakur 2005).


P. Couton, S. Gaudet

A number of questions remain to be explored. First, it remains to be determined why parents, be they immigrants or native-born, seem to be much more likely to engage in social participation while spending much less time doing so on average. One likely explanation is the work/life balance conflicts. Parenting is a timeconsuming activity that, while encouraging social participation, may limit the time available for it, especially if parents are also working. It could also simply be that parenting encourages social participation, but that many new participants do so only occasionally. A second issue relates to the often discussed notion that modes of social participation have changed. Rather than joining organizations or engaging in long-term forms of participation, parents may engage in more sporadic, less demanding activities. A third important aspect of our research is the fact that there is little difference between the average amount of time immigrants and native-born respondents devote to social participation. This seems to indicate that the difference in the proportion of immigrants engaging in social participation is not due to how they participate, but is more of an issue of access. Immigrants who do participate do so very similarly to non-immigrants. Further research could determine whether this is indeed the case. At the policy level, more analysis is needed to understand why immigrant women remain left out of social engagement, especially while they are caring for young children. Our results mirror those in the existing literature and confirm the importance of targeting these women to enhance their access to full, participatory citizenship. Some authors, for instance, underline the importance of learning citizenship through informal community activities, especially for women, instead of promoting formal social integration (Jansen et al. 2006). This informal dimension of social engagement could be better included both at the policy level and by community organizations. More broadly, it is important to introduce social participation as a foundation of citizenships’ right as important as labour market participation and to integrate social participation measures in policy development (Gaudet 2007). For this type of policy to be effective, however, it must account both for the different types of social engagement that individuals carry out and for the particular obstacles specific groups may face. Immigrants for instance seem to face some barriers to entry. This might be remedied by better information or specific efforts at encouraging immigrants to make this initial contact with sites of social engagement. Steps can be taken to have better indicators of social engagement. These indicators can then be used to better measure how social engagement fluctuates between different life course stages and different communities. Social engagement is not a homogeneous phenomenon, but a multidimensional social process that can be addressed at different levels and using different policy instruments. Since young immigrant mothers seem to be left out, for instance, policy developers and community organizers could contribute to specific programs that focus on this population. Acknowledgement We would like to thank Jose Lopez for insightful comments and suggestions, and to Jean-Philippe Bousquet for assisting with the research. This research was funded by a standard SSHRC grant (410-2005-1323). The title of the project is: « La participation sociale des Canadiens à travers l’analyse des parcours de vie ». Stéphanie Gaudet is the principal investigator and the co-investigators are Paul Bernard, Susan McDaniel and Martin Cooke.

Rethinking Social Participation: The Case of Immigrants in Canada


Appendix: Social Participation Variables (VLNTORG Minus Four Domestic Variables)

Table 2 Activities in social participation variable

Activities included in social participation variables Formal

Informal Social Participation

800 Coaching

671 Housework and Cooking Assistance 672 House Maintenance and Repair Assistance 673 Unpaid Babysitting 674 Transportation Assistance 675 Care for Disabled or Ill

600 Professional, Union, General Meetings 610 Political, Civic Activity 620 Child, Youth, Family Organizations 630 Religious Meetings, Organizations 651 Fraternal and Social Organizations 652 Support Groups

676 Correspondence Assistance 677 Unpaid Help for a Business or Farm 660 Volunteer Work, (Organizations) 678 Other Unpaid Help 680 Other Organizational, Voluntary and Religious Activity 680 Other Organizational, Voluntary and Religious Activity 691 Travel: Civic & Voluntary Activity 892 Travel: Coaching

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Philippe Couton is an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Ottawa. His areas of interest include immigration, immigrant social and political engagement, political sociology, and labour.

Stéphanie Gaudet is an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Ottawa. She is currently conducting research on social participation and the life course in Canada. Her other interests include the sociology of ethics, the family, and social policy.

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