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An exploration of the British labour market experiences of second-generation Irish: still nursing and navvying?

By Geraldine C. B. O'Malley


This thesis examines accounts of the labour market experiences of second-generation Irish to determine if their work histories replicate parental career patterns. For two centuries a narrow range of sectors absorbed waves of Irish migrants, with occupational patterns clustered in gendered and stereotyped roles in construction and nursing, yet their descendants careers have not been scrutinised in any depth. Despite being the largest ethnic minority group in Britain there has been no systematic collection of statistics for the Irish as a multi-generational ethnic group, hence the second-generation rarely figure in official data. Consequently, conceptions of ethnicity predicated on the black/white dualism of race and assumed assimilation have ignored the Irish experience. \ud Data was collected via depth interviews which considered participants work histories. A biographical approach sought to reveal and understand individuals’ lives in terms of their distinctiveness within their social context. Photo-elicitation techniques were used to obtain additional perspectives of participants’ social existence. Interviews were transcribed in full and analysed using a tripartite approach where data was read literally, interpretively and reflexively. \ud Findings are categorised on two dimensions: identity & ethnicity and labour market experiences. Cultural persistence of Irishness is apparent, but not matched by external markers of ethnicity. Forced inclusion masked the ethnic origins of participants so that unlike their parents, the second-generation do not keep their heads down at work, identifying instead a propensity to speak out in the workplace. Three possible drivers were advanced to explain such behaviour: Catholicism, the legacy of colonialism and the fact that participants’ origins are camouflaged. Labour market positioning revealed a highly qualified group, spread across a range of sectors. A small number of participants worked in ethnic niche occupations. Of these a significant proportion had replicated parental career patterns and the majority of those working in construction had inherited family businesses

Publisher: University of Leicester
Year: 2009
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