College of Liberal Arts & Social Sciences Theses and Dissertations

Graduation Date


Document Type


Department/Program Conferring Degree

International Studies


Vietnamese immigration, labor market boundaries, construction of the nail niche, context of reception, social stigma


My thesis establishes the factors that lead first generation female Vietnamese immigrants towards or away from employment in the nail niche from the role of employers, industries, government policies, and the agency of community development. Immigrants entering the United States labor markets have historically been subjected to culturally interpreted skills valuation and socialized to work in specific service industries. As a result, many first generation Vietnamese immigrants feel that they have little choice beyond underemployment in low wage jobs while struggling to earn a living. Employment history, education credentials, language skills and social networks are among the most well-known factors that lead immigrants towards niche employment. However, niche employment is also a result of socialization in the U.S., discrimination, stigmatized work, devalued skills, and social stigma. The development of the nail niche has created a space in U.S. labor markets and beyond for Vietnamese immigrants to reject secondary labor markets by using cultural advantages such as Vietnamese language instruction and ethnocentric social networks. Industry regulations and employer strategies have made room for the degradation of work, which when combined with racial and ethnic differentiation creates specific job categories for immigrants and minorities. Ethnic niches provide the similar employer strategies for a newly protected class of low wage workers, with different political negotiations of racial hierarchy than secondary labor markets. It is important to understand ethnic niche employment not only for its economic role in the lives of immigrants, but as a complex intersection of skill valuation, social capital versus human capital, politics of exclusion, the creation of advantage where it had not previously existed, and a protected cultural identity through industry authority. As a result of historic, social and economic influences on this population, nail care has become easy employment, often meant to provide income during the process of incorporation into American life. As ethnic niches have become normalized in the U.S., the permanence of employment in ethnic niches reflects a much larger issue within local labor markets.