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Journal of Comparative Family Studies, 1986, 17 (1), 127-130.

THE TRAITS OF IMMIGRANTS: A Case Study of the Sydney Parsees



There has always been some controversy about the traits of migrants. Are they misfits who could not make it at home (as tends to be believed in the country of origin) or are they people with higher drive, ambition and independence (as tends to be believed in the country of destination)? Quite obviously, both might be right. There are all sorts of motives for migration. Even so, it is not unreasonable to ask which type of motive predominates.

The great difficulty in examining the question is that national means on the attributes in question must be available from the country of origin (including the rural areas from which immigrants often come) and that there must be some way of sampling a (usually) scattered sub-group within the country of destination. Such stringent requirements are obviously very seldom met even for a particular migrant ethnic group -- let alone for migrants as a whole.

Generalizations about migrants as a whole would probably in any case be misleading. It seems likely, for instance, that while most Italians and Greek migrants in Australia come from the poorer strata of their parent societies, Asian migrants in Australia (even including refugees) generally come from the better educated and more affluent levels of their parent societies. Different circumstances and cultures may produce quite different migration pressures according to the particular ethnic group involved. In the circumstances, then, a case study method seems required. We need to look at what sort of people migrate within the context of one ethnic group at a time.

One group that offers particular promise in this respect are the Parsecs of India. They are an almost totally urban people of whom something like 90% live in one city -- Bombay. This means that the parent population is unusually easy to sample. Since India's independence, however, the Parsees have lost the great political influence they once enjoyed at home and many have therefore moved to the cities of the more affluent Anglo-Saxon nations. Most of them grow up speaking Indian English so the transition is less difficult for them than it is for many other migrants. Additionally, they are a small, cohesive and yet very affluent minority -- even in India. ( They have their own religion -- Zoroastrianism -- and are the descendants of Persians who fled from their Muslim conquerors over a thousand years ago). As a result of their rather exposed situation as a minority, they are also inevitably somewhat self-conscious and co-operate readily with outsiders who take an interest in them. Their community-consciousness also means that they tend to be very well-organized for contacting and co-operating with one-another. Sampling them both at home and abroad is therefore much easier than it would be for many other ethnic groups [1].

A study of the Parsee parent population in Bombay has already been carried out and reported elsewhere [2]. This does therefore provide a useful basis for comparisons with the group of migrant Parsees living in Sydney, Australia.


There are about a hundred Parsee families in Sydney, most of whom have arrived in the last ten years. All appear to be at least honorary members of the Australian Zoroastrian Association and are listed in its Directory. All adults in the Directory were sent a questionnaire. After 42 had replied, a reminder was sent out -- after which a further 30 replies were received.

The questions in the questionnaire formed four "scales" of a conventional psychological type and thus enable four distinct personality traits to be measured for each person. Details of the scales and their psychometric origins can be found elsewhere [3]. In summary, there was a 14 item achievement motivation scale with a reliability (coefficient "alpha") on the present total group of 72 respondents of .78, a 26 item "Directiveness" (authoritarian dominance) scale with a reliability of .78, a six item Neurtoticism (chronic anxiety) scale with a reliability of .77 and an eight item Social Desirability (Lie) scale with a reliability of .76. These reliabilities uniformly indicate that the scales were internally consistent to conventional standards of adequacy and are similar to the levels observed when the scales have been previously used with Anglo-Saxon samples. The items of all scales were presented bilingually -- in English, followed by a translation into Parsee Gujurati. All scales were as previously used in the Bombay survey.


Total score means on the four scales were initially computed for the two "waves" of respondents separately but were found to show no significant differences. It was concluded therefore that those who had to be "prodded" into responding to the questionnaire were not demonstrably different from those who responded readily. This would normally be taken to mean that volunteer artifact was not a serious problem on the present occasion.

The overall mean scores for the 72 respondents are therefore given in Table 1 together with means obtained in two previous Bombay studies and a previous survey of Sydney residents generally. Note that in the study of the Bombay Parsees, Parsees were found not to be highly ambitious in comparison with other Indians. They were, however, more dominant. The Sydney Parsees did not significantly differ from the Bombay Parsees on achievement motivation or dominance but scored significantly lower than their parent population on Neuroticism and Social Desirability responding. Sydney Parsees were, then, less anxious and less prone to lie than Bombay Parsees.

Table 1.


...................Sydney Parsees...Bombay Parsees...Australians [4]........Indians [5]

Ambition........34.63 (5.38).........33.96 (5.65)..........31.44 (5.83)..........35.10 (4.33)
Dominance....55.34 (8.25).........54.77 (5.88)..........54.88 (8.75)..........49.86 (6.20)
Anxiety..........11.84 (3.60).........13.21 (2.98)..........12.63 (3.57)..........12.86 (3.55)
Lying ............18.27 (4.07).........19.38 (2.88)..........16.01 (4.47)..........18.32 (3.06)

n..........................72.......................90..........................95....................... 305


The results of the present comparisons are, then, consistent with neither of the popular theories of immigrant characteristics set out initially above. If immigrants were independent and ambitious, the Sydney Parsees should have got higher scores than the Bombay Parsees on the Directiveness and Achievement motivation scales. They did not. If immigrants were misfits and deviants, they should have got higher scores on the Neuroticism scale. Instead, they were less rather than rnore anxious and were more honest to boot.

The present results could, therefore, be some stimulus to the formation of a third theory of immigrant characteristics: that to become an immigrant one has to be less prone to anxiety and insecurity. Migrants are more self-confident so they worry less and tell fewer lies about themselves.

It could, of course, be argued that the present results tell us nothing about the type of person who migrates but rather tell us about the effect Sydney has on people who feel insecure in their homeland. Perhaps Australia is a pretty relaxing and carefree place after Bombay and going there reduces anxiety and causes people to let down their guard a bit. While some effect of this nature cannot of course be ruled out (only a separate study of the same people before and after migrating could do that), it should be noted that both the Eysenck Neuroticism scale and the Marlowe-Crowne Social Desirability scales are designed to measure traits rather than states and have been shown by their authors to have good test-retest reliability. It is unlikely, therefore, that what they measure would have changed much over time.

Furthermore, if situational factors had any influence on the scale scores recorded, one would perhaps most of all have expected lower dominance scores among the Sydney Parsees. In moving to Sydney they moved from a position of considerable prestige and influence to a situation where they are perceived as just another "wog" migrant group. Surely this should have produced a lesser tendency towards interpersonal dominance in Sydney. The fact that no difference between the Sydney and Bombay dominance scale means was in fact observed suggests, then, that the measurement approach adopted in the present paper was successful in its aim of tapping long term stable personality traits rather than situational responses.


* School of Sociology, The University of New South Wales, Kensington 2033, Australia

[1] Most of the existing literature on the Parsees is summarized in E. KULKE. The Parsees in India: a minority as agent of social change. New Delhi, India: Vikas, 1978.

[2] Ray, J.J. (1983) Ambition and dominance among the Parsees of India. Journal of Social Psychology 119, 173-179.

[3] Ray, J.J. (1982) Authoritarianism and achievement motivation in India. J. Social Psychology 117, 171-182.

[4] Ray, J.J. (1981) Do authoritarian attitudes or authoritarian personality reflect mental illness? S. African J. Psychology 11, 153-157.

[5] See note 3.

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