Vietnamese migrant families in Australia

Giang Tran


The Vietnamese community is the sixth largest ethnic group in Australia, with around 236,700 people, accounting for 1% of Australia's population(ABS, 2016). The largest group of the Vietnamese community in Australia is comprised of refugees who mainly left Vietnam by boats in the period from 1975 to 1980s (Truong et al., 2001, Viviani, 1984) Recently, there has been another group of skilled Vietnamese migrants to Australia. After the 1986 economic reform (Đổimới), there were many significant changes in the international relations of Vietnam that have provided chances for Vietnamese people to study and work overseas. These people have foreign language proficiency and professional knowledge, and decided on migration to another country with their choices (Nguyễn Hồng Chi, 2014, Đặng Nguyên Anh, 2007). Australia has been chosen to migrate recently by many Vietnamese skilled migrants because of educational, economic and employment opportunities (Watkins et al., 2003)

As in all cultures, Vietnamese family structures and relations are shaped by a distinctive cultural value system. It is generally agreed that the principal values at stake are emphasis on respect for age, a pronounced gender hierarchy and a collectivist orientation (Pham, 1999, Kibria, 1995). Thus, many Vietnamese children are socialised to practise filial piety (hiếu thảo), which entails certain obligations in terms of taking care of parents, providing support to parents in their old age, and obeying them. Children are also expected to practise harmony (hòa thuận) and solidarity (đoàn kết) in their family relations, which work together to create tight relationships with siblings and relatives in extended families. With regard to gender relations, relationships between men and women in families are shaped by a strong sense of hierarchy. This norm typically sees fathers and husbands as pillars of the home, and as the primary breadwinners and decision-makers in households. In contrast, mothers and daughters are subject to paternal authority, and their role is mainly confined to performing domestic labour in the home. In many Vietnamese families, these gender values support the widespread preference for sons over daughters, due to their obligation to support parents socially and economically in old age. These different values that underlie Vietnamese family life are considered to be mutually supportive of each other, and together go to shape family relationships and dynamics.

Pueaa 2018 Web Blog Post5 Img1

Fotografía: El Templo Quang Minh en Melbourbe, Australia

However, based on in-depth interviews with 20 first-generation Vietnamese migrant parents from refugee and skilled migrant backgrounds, and 18 Vietnamese Australian children, I have found that after migrating to Australia, these values have been preserved and modified across generations in Vietnamese migrant families. I have found that the values that have been retained and shared across generations – particularly those relating to harmony, solidarity and providing emotional support to parents – are seen as necessary and valuable in Australia. These values have been seen as cultural capital of Vietnamese migrant families that is necessary and helpful for both Vietnamese migrant parents and the children when living in Australia. Further, values that are not considered necessary, such as some aspects of gender hierarchy and filial piety, have been modified or discarded. I also found that Australian social security system provides more options for independent living in later life for Vietnamese migrants. The cultural orientation in the society also lead the Vietnamese traditional values to be downplayed when children growing up in Australia.

There are differences between refugee and skilled migrant parents in the ways they share certain cultural values. The former group has attempted to carefully preserve values that existed in Vietnam at the time of their departure, while the latter group’s process of sharing cultural values is more flexible. It is further suggested that the varying habitus of refugees, skilled migrants and Vietnamese Australian children influences their different beliefs and practices regarding Vietnamese cultural values.

These findings of my study add to the research aimed at increasing the understanding of different cultural values of ethnic groups in Australia – in this case the process of whether and how Vietnamese cultural values persist in refugee and skilled migrant families. In particular, it highlights the roles of parents and children in the process of preserving and modifying cultural values in the migration context. It also provides a new perspective on Vietnamese cultural values in migrant families, particularly in skilled migrant families.


ABS. 2016. Documento en línea. [Accessed 4 August 2017].

ĐẶNG NGUYÊN ANH 2007. Labour Export from Viet Nam: Issues of Policy and Practice. the 8th International Conference of Asia Pacific Migration Research Network Fuzhou, China.

KIBRIA, N. 1995. Family Tightrope : The Changing Lives of Vietnamese Americans. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

NGUYỄN HỒNG CHI 2014. Development and brain drain: a review of Vietnamese labour export and skilled migration. Migration and Development, 3, 181-202.

PHAM, V. B. 1999. The Vietnamese Family in Change The Case of the Red River Delta, London, London : Taylor and Francis.

TRUONG, H. Q., DINH, X. L. & LE, M. H. 2001. Đại cương lịch sử Việt Nam - Từ thời nguyên thuỷ đến năm 2000 (General history of Viet Nam from primitive to 2000), Hanoi, Education house.

VIVIANI, N. 1984. The long journey : Vietnamese migration and settlement in Australia, Carlton, Vic, Carlton, Vic : Melbourne University Press.

WATKINS, R., PLANT, A. J., SANG, D., O'ROURKE, T., LE, V., NGUYEN, H. & GUSHULAK, B. 2003. Research note Individual characteristics and expectations about opportunities in Australia among prospective Vietnamese migrants. Journal of Ethnic & Migration Studies, 29, 157.

Fecha de publicación: 31/08/2018