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The chances of the second generation in families of Ethnic Entrepreneurs: intergenerational and gender aspects of quality of life processes


The project investigated intergenerational relations in families of ethnic entrepreneurs in the food sector in five European countries. Our aim was to develop a biographically, gender and inter-generationally sensitive instrument of analysis that could assist in the formulation of policy aiming to improve the quality of life and the chances of the members of families of ethnic entrepreneurs in European societies. Our question is how the specific work situation in ethnic business impacts on the life chances of the children, who may be involved or not in business work, and how resources and chances for the second generation are shaped under the living and working conditions in ethnic businesses. One of the key questions is whether resources that enable ethnic entrepreneurship are an asset or rather an obstacle to resource accumulation for the second generation.


Ethnogeneration is a cross-national research that implements biographical methods with the aim of understanding family dynamics and quality of life processes in families of ethnic entrepreneurs. The aim of the project is to bring together, analyse and compare biographical interviews of self-employed migrant men and women and non-migrant women from five European countries. The analysis was conducted in UK, France, Denmark, Germany and Greece.
Biographical interviews were undertaken with different members of such families, including female and male family members, and parents as well as children. The interviews were conducted with each family member separately so the different voices could be heard without the influence of power relations between them. In the sampling strategy, the research follows principles of Grounded Theory, such as selecting different kinds of contrasting cases concerning contrasting cases involving different types of families and of work involvement of the different family members. The aim wasto identify coping strategies with regard to specific work demands and in relation to family socialization patterns. We have focused on the ethnic groups with the strongest presence in the food sector: in France Algerians, Tunisians, Portuguese, Italians and Chinese, in the UK Indians, Bangladeshi, Pakistanis, Turks and Cypriots, in Germany the Turks, Greeks, Italians, Vietnamese, in Greece, Albanians, Egyptians, Bangladeshi. The practical consideration underlying this sampling strategy was to have a manageable variety of cultural and historical background. In each country, interviews in 20 ethnic entrepreneur families were conducted with members of the parents’ and the children’s generation. A total of 137 biographical interviews were been conducted. Even though we processed a total of 76 family case studies throughout Europe, this does not imply that we were seeking to build a quantitatively representative sample of enterprising migrant families in the European food sector. Indeed, in most cases only some of the family members were willing to participate in the research. We included the incomplete cases in the analysis, of interviews with only a part of the family members or even only one family member. These cases contained many negative experiences within the family or with work in the family business. Not including such cases would have meant that we would have a seriously limited sample, excluding conflicts and tensions in the families. On the basis of the national cases, the data was analysed and then related in a comparative perspective to the specific scientific expertise of the participating partners. Recommendations for EU policies have been formulated following a comparative analysis

Research findings

1. “Ethnic business” in our research is understood in the sense of businesses of migrants, mostly in terms of self-employment. By means of such businesses, single migrants or groups of migrants are able to develop economic resources based on niche economies, family networks, specific abilities and models of self-financing. These are businesses set up by at least one person of immigrant descent. The integration of family members in businesses of ethnic entrepreneurs in the food sector can vary involving

  • spouses and children
  • spouses only
  • father or mother and child or children
  • only father or mother.

2. Male migrants are mostly the initiators of the family businesses in the food sector. Their entrepreneurial activity is a product of blocked career mobility on the one hand but also, on the other hand of the realisation of their biographical plans; in this way, it can be a source of self-esteem.

3. For women, working in the family business assisting as family member or co-entrepreneur can be a means to participate in the non-domestic work sphere. However, business work heavily adds to care work, which remains their responsibility.

4. The majority of the families of the sample are male dominated. It is mainly the man that runs the family business, while women are given subordinate roles in the business and/or her main responsibilities lie within the household

5. In the first generation of women entrepreneurs, women seemed more likely than their male counterparts to create their own businesses once they are divorced or separated, when they are childless or their children are grown up.

6. How children become involved in the family business work depends on the gender and order of siblings and also relates to how family cycle and business cycle intersect.

7. Working in the family business can have positive as well as negative consequences for the quality of life of the children:

  • When they are integrated in the business work, children closely interact with their parents and are not at risk of being neglected. Through the business work, they acquire social, communicative and entrepreneurial competencies and develop work ethics and self-confidence.
  • Through better financial resources, ethnic entrepreneurs can support their children, by means of, for example, paying private lessons to support their education and avoid failing in school.
  • The family business can provide formal vocational training for children who cannot find an apprenticeship in the labour market, provided that the parents are formally entitled to offer the apprenticeship.
  • At the same time, however, children experience a lack of what they perceive as “normal” family life, for example, more regular time spent at home with the parent(s), also more leisure time for themselves and peer group interaction.
  • The advantages of acquiring resources can turn into a burden, through feelings of obligation, guilt, and responsibility. This can make it difficult to develop autonomy, as the ability to mobilise social and human capital for their future life.
  • Gender dimension of integration of children in the business: there is a gender pair. Female children are in some cases strongly involved in the business and not at all in others. Mother entrepreneur sometimes strongly involve daughters (most of all the first daughter) in the business work. In the cases where the father is the entrepreneur, the daughters are often not involved in the business work, whereas the male son is involved.
  • The workload is high for parents and children, especially in businesses that are downsizing because of the economic crisis and have to rely on family labour. A high workload of the parents frequently leads to early health problems that can bring the whole family into a precarious situation.
  • Lack of social ties with the host society/population has posed obstacles. In addition administrative problems and relatively low help from official bodies has been experienced. Many feel disadvantaged compared to entrepreneurs of the majority population, who have wider and more established social networks.
  • In many of the cases where such useful ties are lacking, family and ethnic networks to some extent make up for them, for example by supplying labour power, advice or emotional support, or by providing financial help.
  • In contrast to the North European cases, in Greece the parents choose for the non participation of the children in the family business and specifically in this country children of ethnic entrepreneurs are highly educationally and trans-nationally oriented.

8. Most parents value education highly and expect their children to follow an education based on a vocational career, rather than taking over the business. In general, businesses are a one-generation project, only when the businesses do exceptionally well are there plans to transmit them to the children. Notable exceptions include children who give up education in order to work in the business or who are handicapped in any other (also bodily) ways. Family businesses can function as a safety net for children who are at risk to be excluded from the labour market through educational failure or physical problems such as disabilities.

9. Working in the family business and even being very committed to it does not have a negative impact on doing well in school and achieving higher education, but it can mean having to cope with fatigue, overwork, stress.

10. Children of entrepreneurs in the food sector mostly develop their own biographical plans for careers based on education or go into entrepreneurship in other economic sectors.

11. Conflicts between adolescent children and parents involved in business seem to be gender-specific, as girls seem to feel the necessity to take distance when they engage in a relationship or use this opportunity to become autonomous.

12. The negative consequences for children's wellbeing and educational achievement are stronger in families of first generation migrants. Under the immediate pressure of the migration project, parents of the first generation feel forced to pursue economic strategies, neglecting educational and other needs of their children. In these cases, family businesses do not provide a safety net for children at risk because of their educational failure but rather the other way around: children are the safety net for family businesses at risk and without access to outside help.Gender specific differences regarding the succession of the business can be perceived in families with children of both sexes. In many cases, the successor has to be the son, while for the daughter certain vocational paths are regarded more suitable.

13. Comparing the north European cases with the Greek case, significant differences arise. Immigrant entrepreneurship in Greece represents a path to legalization of residence. In contrast to North European cases, the motives of immigrant entrepreneurs in Greece can be characterized as survival motives against negative preconditions (limited provisions for legal immigration as well as extreme dependencies and discriminations).


Policy recommendations

1. A broad aim of our policy recommendation is to improve access to resources that support the quality of life of families of ethnic entrepreneurs. However, access to resources intersects with other processes such as racialisation that bloc the possibility for people to translate these into business capital. This means we need to confront and counter obstacles and disadvantages on several fronts simultaneously, and explicitly address the issue of gender and ethnic discrimination in the labour market.

2. Ways need to be developed of achieving self-employment on equal terms irrespective of gender and ethnic background. This would focus on the

  • promotion of good practice and sensitivity to gender and ethnic issues in institutions that come face to face with prospective self-employed individuals or offer training of staff,
  • promotion of micro-finance institutions,
  • promotion of a mentoring system actively involving more experienced members of the community providing support, advice, and facilitating the transfer of knowledge, as well as giving access to social networks,
  • policies that give a voice to ethnic businesses and enable them to participate in decision-making and policy making on both local and national level; these would have to be sensitive to differences and diversity in the ethnic minority population in terms of ethnicity, class and gender,
  • promotion of ethnic business associations and when necessary separate associations for women entrepreneurs that give support, help and training, also with regard to the positions of employees, both family and non-family staff. Such associations would also function as a type of social pool of both knowledge and networks that could enable the ethnic entrepreneurs and their families to access social and cultural capital useful beyond the ethnic business.

3. Policies against racism and stigmatization: in all national frameworks a part of the respondents have mentioned experiences of racism, xenophobia and unequal treatment by local authorities and social environment. Policies should combat racism but also the specific stigmatized notion of ethnic entrepreneurs in the public discourse.

4. Less restrictive migration policies. A main structure affecting quality of life of ethnic entrepreneurs and their families proved to be the lack of work-life balance. Migration policies should enable migrants to recruit qualified staff for ethnic restaurants and the immigration of persons of the extended family that could help out in the care work

5. Protect ethnic business children from risks they might run: e.g. informing enterprising migrant parents about the need for education of their c hildren and the need for school continuity

6. Implement the formalization of children’s work in the form of vocational training.

Recommendations on
Improving Children’s Quality of Life

7. Policy should reinforce the positive consequences for the quality of life of children, aim at reducing the negative ones and produce means of solving the contradictions, especially in the following areas:

  • Guidance in education should be extended to the whole family, so that educational plans can be a part of the family project in a process that is based on information and understanding of choices, content and pathways.
  • Ethnic, immigrant and minority entrepreneurs should be supported and guided to become formalised trainers. Such programmes have to be monitored closely to ensure that they empower and raise the competence level of entrepreneurs and open valid ways for the second generation into the labour market.
  • Special attention should be given - in education as well as in business and development programmes - to the prospects of second-generation immigrants to become bridge-builders between their host country, their country of origin and even third countries.

8. Support work-life-balance in the families of ethnic entrepreneurs. Reduce the need for harmful strategies, such as the fragmentation of families through

  • development of care facilities and
  • enabling grandparents to immigrate and assist in care work.

9. Support access to family counselling.

10. Language acquisition of parents, especially mothers should be promoted and facilitated. Positive incentives should be developed, linking language acquisition with other activities, for example business training, or courses/discussion forums concerned with knowledge about education systems, possible career paths, etc

Recommendations on
Policy Development

11. Policy aiming at formalizing the informal work of family members in family businesses should take into account the character of personal obligation that is involved in the exchanges with each other. Low threshold formalization could be one possibility for improving the social security for the involved family members

12. Policy aiming at regulating children's work in family businesses should be mindful of the positive and negative functions of the work of children in the family businesses

13. It is important to communicate the positive aspects of family businesses against stigmatization and racialisation

14. Stabilization of migration policy in Southern Europe will enable enterprising migrants in their biographical planning

15. Family support should be increased in Southern Europe

16. Research needs to be developed on immigrant families and especially families engaged in family businesses

17. Immigrant families and family businesses need to be included in the regular reports on families in Europe, in social and youth reports

18. In developing both research and policy, family should be understood from the perspective of the children.