Filipino Restaurants: Another Data Point

Nearly two years I speculated on reasons why there are so few Filipino restaurants in Australia relative to the large number Filipino migrants.

A secondary purpose was to discuss the uselessness of preference based explanations – not because they could not be true, but because they could not be verified; The only evidence that a set of preferences causes a set of phenomena is the phenomena themselves. Useless.

In the case of Pinoy food a preference explanation would also need to claim that

A) There is something remarkable about Pinoy food that is not true about every other migrant cuisine that has ever come into the country and;

B ) Filipinos are, unlike every other migrant group, disinclined to eat at restaurants of their own cuisine.

My hypothesis instead, was;

i) Ethnic restaurants are common because migrants are likely to start businesses both because of the personality characteristics that led them to migrate in the first place, and greater difficulties finding waged or salaried employment (because of discrimination, or simply a lack of socialisation to tacit things).

ii) The nature of the Filipino diaspora in Australia is gender skewed heavily towards woemen[1]. The remaining careers with ease of entry (cleaning, aged care) are “feminised”. Subsequently a great proportion of the population that would otherwise have to start businesses is able to find paid employment, which they prefer. (The gender skew in business starting accross all ethnicities may also be at play).

iii) Subsequently there is a lack of supply of restaurant starters, not a lack of demand.

It was by far my most popular post on Troppo. I still get comments every week or so. Invariably the comments cite preferences as their favoured explanation, either because Filipino food uses condiments (like, apparently, no other food), or that Filipinos like their mum’s cooking *(like, apparently, no other ethnicity) and so on.

After a brief update last year,  I have a more substantial one today.

1) On the weekend I ate in a busy Pinoy restaurant filled with both Filipinos and Australians of other ethnicities. Suck on that revealed preference.

2) Pollytics (Scott Steel) provided this graph yesterday on Twitter. It is business owners by country of birth from the Census. Guess which country is way down the bottom. Although it doesn’t support my speculations about the gender gap, it does support the hypothesis that it is related to the lack of businesses started by Filipinos.


I’d note some other things though.

Whilst there are a great number of countries above Australia on the list, there are a few below. Asian countries are mainly below Australia. Of the four Asian countries whose emigrants are more likely to start businesses here than the native born, three have a notable refugee aspect (although refugees and their descendants are now a minority in these communities), as does the number one in Lebanon. This might be related to difficulties in finding wage employment, but its probably just spurious correlation.

I don’t think it makes sense that Asians would be inherently less entrepreneurial – especially when people happily make the opposite claim in relation to the Asian Tigers or China’s economic successes. A far more likely explanation is that the period of Asian migration coincided with the introduction of the skilled migration points system. This means migrants are actively being selected for their capacity to get wage jobs, and not start businesses. (There is still a disparity between Filipinos and their contemporary migrants though).


[fn1] There’s no need for nasty stereotypes around this point, its a demographic fact.

About Richard Tsukamasa Green

Richard Tsukamasa Green is an economist. Public employment means he can't post on policy much anymore. Also found at @RHTGreen on twitter.
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14 Responses to Filipino Restaurants: Another Data Point

  1. perplexed says:

    Catholicism has to be a factor. I think this euro-centric faith also partly explains the relative success of the Filipino diaspora. But it also dilutes their national character or their attachment to the Philippines, beyond family loyalty.
    Also a country that takes a vote on whether to actively seek to become a state of the United States – okay a long time ago – suggests a ‘nanny state’ of the very basic sort. A bit like our attachment to the US alliance. But not a good recipe for striking out in the dangerous world of restaurant ownership!

    • Sancho says:

      I reckon a nation that asks to join the world’s most successful democracy is more noble than one that wants to stay ruled by a family of Germans.

  2. Sancho says:

    The aged care industry is packed with Filipino workers, which may be a reflection of their cutural attitude to taking care of older people, or perhaps becuase of the gender-skewed immigration.

    Could it simply be that Filipino food isn’t remarkably different to other SEA cuisines, so Filipino immigrants either don’t try to compete or simply market themselves as Thai or Indonesian? God knows you won’t find many sushi places staffed by Japanese.

  3. john r walker says:

    One of the basic historical reasons for starting a ethnic food supply biz was all the people who were craving a ‘whatever’ that was not available.
    How much food similar to Filipino food is available in the multitude of other SE Asian places and especially in Baba-Nyonya type places?

  4. Richard Tsukamasa Green says:

    John, Sancho – Since you’re making similar points, Pinoy food is quite distinct from other SE Cuisines, as much as Thai is from Malaysian for instance (I think much more so though, if only by the use of vinegar and by hundreds of years of Spanish influence) – and these are always clearly distinguished from each other. And even though most Malaysian food here is Nonya, there is a clear dileneation between Malaysian and Singaporean restaurants. If these migrants demand and create clearly labeled restaurants, I don’t see why Filipinos would uniquely choose to settle for a substitute.

  5. Willmott Fribbish says:

    Where I live (Port Moresby) there are no “official” filippino restaurants, but there is a flourishing trade in filippino food within their own community, from “house restaurants”, where you have to know someone to get in, to people making filippino delicacies in their home kitchens for sale. By the way, filippino cuisine is unique, a blend of influences, including Malay, Spanish, American, and probably many other nationalities. Nothing else like it.

  6. Jim Rose says:

    About 80 percent of Pinoy food has its roots in Spain according to one source. there are also few spanish restaurants? Pinoy food is also based on pork, which may be anothor drawback?

    your ethnic self-employment graph seems to be suggesting inverse correlation with english skills and professional educations.

  7. john r walker says:

    Actually the very low percent of ‘Australians’ who own or manage a biz seems a bit odd. Is the graph based on a definition of ‘ethnic group’: people who were not born here? And what about all the contractors, sole traders and so on?

  8. Tim Macknay says:

    Catholicism has to be a factor.

    The prevalence of Italian restaurants would tend to refute this hypothesis.

  9. Roger B says:

    Your guess about women is probably close to the mark. But more importantly, it’s the poorer women who are moving. I don’t have any hard numbers for it but it’s my observation that wealthier, more educated Filipinos tend to gravitate towards the US rather than Australia for historical reasons. And the US has many Filipino restaurants.

    Most of my family ended up in the US. They could afford the education and the visas. My family only ended up in Australia because my grandfather (USAF) was briefly stationed in Queensland during WWII. My parents were of a noticeably higher socioeconomic status to other arrivals, and this relative status from the old country was kept intact for many years, with much bowing and scraping from ex-maids and service types. My father would be one of the 4% of Filipino born business owners but I’m guessing that demographically speaking, I’d be one of of the 85.2% of “Australians” working for someone else.

    That said, despite your preference against revealed preferences, I’ve never been to a Filipino event that wasn’t massively overcatered and it’s openly expected that everyone will bring takeaway containers with them to take stuff home. Even at other people’s houses. I just can’t imagine having to pay for food.

  10. Jim Rose says:

    Ed Lazear found that entrepreneurs were generalists. They have a variety of skills in their backgrounds.

    His 1997 survey of 5,000 Stanford MBA alumni found that those that started a business were Their past work experience included a greater variety of tasks compared to classmates who went on to work for others. Business founders held many different types of previous jobs and they balance their choice of MBA courses between a variety of disciplines rather than majoring in one or two areas.

    More Pinoy have university and professional qualifications rather than jack-of-all-trades backgrounds. This raises the opportunity cost of self-employment and reduces the suitability of their skill sets to small business.

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