Windows and bridges : The education, employment and wellbeing outcomes of young migrants in Australia: a focus on those from refugee source countries

  • Alison Childs

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


In Australia, average educational achievement among immigrants at age 15, and participation rates in post-school study are equivalent to or slightly higher than those of Australian students. However, these averages mask wide variations in student achievement and post-school outcomes within the immigrant population. Productive participation and improving lifetime wellbeing are core aims of government policies linked to immigrant settlement, youth educational attainment and transitions. The period of transition between education and employment can be difficult for young people, particularly young immigrants. Previous research indicates that there are strong links between education, employment and levels of wellbeing. In this thesis, using a sequential explanatory mixed method, I present findings from analysis of longitudinal data, and interviews with experienced settlement and education providers. My research questions examine whether young immigrants differ from their Australian peers in terms of their education, employment and wellbeing. I also examine whether there are differences within the migrant population by grouping young people according to country of origin (refugee source countries and other countries) and generation of settlement (first and second generations). I draw on human and social capital theories, segmented assimilation, the comparative integration context and the ideal of multiculturalism as part of integration approaches, to understand the association between migrant status and occupational expectations, educational attainment, employment outcomes and wellbeing for one cohort of young men and women living in Australia. Although human capital theory suggests that higher levels of educational attainment are associated with greater likelihood of employment, my analysis of longitudinal data collected by the Longitudinal Surveys of Australian Youth (LSAY) project from one cohort of young people between 2003 and 2013 shows that, despite having higher levels of educational attainment, some migrant groups are clearly disadvantaged in the labour market. The results show that levels of educational attainment of first and second-generation migrants are broadly equivalent to those of their longer-term Australian peers. However, considering gender outcomes - employment for young women is more problematic, particularly for those born in refugee source countries. Regarding wellbeing at age 25 - net of the effects of general health, socio-economic status, education, employment status and partnership status - male first-generation immigrants from refugee source countries reported the lowest levels of psychological distress, and female first-generation immigrants from refugee source countries reported the highest levels of psychological distress, compared to their longer-term Australian peers. These findings were discussed with service providers in the migrant settlement, education and employment fields generating qualitative data to further our understanding of the complexities of settlement experiences of young migrants. The integration of findings from both data sources indicates that there is a greater need for consideration of the intersectionality of gender and migrant background (including generation) when considering the settlement experiences of young migrants. Significant thesis contributions include 1) innovative use of ‘refugee source countries’ migrant status categories using the LSAY data; 2) holistic approach to examining education, employment and wellbeing comparing transitions of young people in Australia; 3) reviewing theoretical perspectives to determine that the ideal of multiculturalism has stronger support in education than employment and wellbeing, and that the integration context of settlement in Australia requires greater consideration; and 4) identifying gaps in available longitudinal quantitative data sets which hamper research and analysis of migrants’ transitions from education to employment. Implications for policy and practice, research limitations and potential for future research are outlined. Keywords: Australia, education; employment; generation; immigrant; psychological distress; refugee; settlement; wellbeing.
Date of Award2019
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorLouise Watson (Supervisor), Moo Sung Lee (Supervisor) & Jenny Chesters (Supervisor)

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