Until the 1960s most South Asians in the labor force were Sikh men, who worked at blue-collar jobs in British Columbia's lumber mills and logging camps. Immigrant selection preferences for professionals in the 1960s and 1970s and for skilled blue- and white-collar workers thereafter widened South Asians' range of occupations. Extensive Immigrant sponsorship also brought many unskilled people to Canada. South Asians span the educational spectrum; 30 percent claim a B.A. Degree or more, and 20 percent have less than a ninth-grade education. There is a great educational disparity between women and men. Today a very high proportion of women (70 percent) and men (90-95 percent) are economically active outside the home—a remarkable shift from patriarchal source cultures, where few women are in the paid work force. One-third of men are in highly skilled occupations, and another third are in primary and secondary industries. Women are involved in clerical, service delivery, fabrication, and health-related work. Women perform virtually all household tasks, as in source cultures. South Asians have achieved at least a normative Canadian material standard of living, compensating for immigrant disabilities with class resources, extensive familial economic pooling, and community support. South Asians have strong entrepreneurial traditions, and small-scale South Asian commercial activities are well developed. These are chiefly community-based storefront businesses such as retail stores, travel and insurance agencies, service stations, and restaurants. Some South Asians are also involved in larger scale mainstream businesses, especially Ismailis, other Gujaratis, and Sikhs.
Forced migration has limited Southeast Asian economic options. By Southeast Asian standards most people are Middle class and comparatively well educated (claiming on average ten years of education). Fewer than 15 percent from Vietnam are from rural backgrounds, though this is higher for Cambodians and Laotians. As many as one-half have backgrounds in shopkeeping and small-scale manufacturing; these were Chinese economic specializations throughout Southeast Asia. Even so, Southeast Asians often have fewer occupational, class, and language resources than typical Canadians, and the majority work at relatively unskilled, poorly remunerated jobs in manufacturing and in the provision of food and janitorial services. Still, within two years of their arrival 90 percent of adults were in the labor force. Women do almost all household work, as in Southeast Asia.