Immigration, Cultural Adjustment, and Work Values: The Case of Korean Nail Care Workers in New York

Article excerpt

This study addresses the significance of acculturation, known as cultural adjustment, in examining work values among Korean female nail care workers in New York. In this study, acculturation is measured by both English proficiency and personal comfort in the mainstream cultural comfort, while four indicators are used to measure work values: the subjective evaluation of the nature of the work, both perceptions of occupational status and self-development, and the consideration of quitting the current nail job. Using a sample of 312 responses, this study shows that nail care workers have evaluated the nature of the nail care work less devalued as they experience improvements in English proficiency and cultural comfort. Second, this study also supports that cultural comfort plays a positive effect on their perception of nail care work as an employment sector in a upper-middle or upper occupational status. Moreover, there is evidence that more cultural comfort tends to lower their intention of quitting the nail care job. However, this study suggests that acculturation has little to do with perception of self-development in nail care work.

Keywords: Acculturation, Work values, Nail care work, Korean immigrant women

Introduction

Much of the past research on work values has been discussed largely under key factors, such as age, gender, race, family role, education, social origins, job experience, working conditions, and so on (Halaby 2003; Jencks, Perman, and Rainwater 1988; Johnson 2002, 2005; Johnson and Elder, Jr. 2002; Marini et al. 1996; Miller et al. 1979; Mortimer and Lorence 1979; Rowe and Snizek 1995). After emigration, then how acculturation, expressed as cultural assimilation in this paper, affects work values among immigrant workers is relatively little known within the field of its empirical research. As a case study, therefore, the main goal of this study is to address whether and how acculturation affects work values from a sample of Korean immigrant female workers in New York. Indeed, an overt image of first-generation Korean Americans in the literature or in the media so far is often portrayed as those having a strong work ethic,-that is, hard-working, disciplined, deft, or goal-oriented. In the same way, do they have a higher extent of work values in current jobs? In other words, do they have less negative perceptions about their current jobs?

In general, it is not much difficult to infer the general evaluations of their current works among recent Korean immigrant male workers. For instance, many of them have experienced employment in white-collar occupations in Korea. After their emigration to America, these Korean immigrants, with few exceptions, have had trouble finding occupations equivalent to their preceding high-status employment because of their relatively disadvantaged positions in the host labor market that are typically attributed to low English proficiency, less accessibility of job information and job networks, and/or some discriminatory forces against immigrants. Instead of accessing the mainstream labor market in the host society, as an alternative, they tend to pursue a labor-intensive and daily long-hour employment in their own ethnic small-business enclave (Fernandez and Kim 1998; Kim and Hurh 1985; Min 1984, 1995; Yoon 1997). As a result, this downward mobility in occupation can lead them to bring down their work values in current jobs regardless of different occupational statuses between small business owners and their same ethnic employees.

There is no question that occasional conflicts with spouses, high stress level, alcoholism, and gambling among Korean immigrant males are further and indirect manifestations of their relatively lower work values in the aftermath of occupational downward mobility (Hurh and Kim 1990; Min 1998). Despite this general inference of work values among overall Korean immigrant male workers, the theme of work values among first-generation Korean immigrant female workers has been almost unexplored and substantially of little interest in the preexisting research on Korean immigrants in the United States. …