Introduction Racial and ethnic disparities in rates of total joint replacement have been described, but little work has been done in well-established migrant groups. The aim of this study was to compare the rates of primary joint replacement for osteoarthritis for Italian and Greek migrants to Australia and Australian-born individuals. Methods Eligible participants (n = 39,023) aged 27 to 75 years, born in Italy, Greece, Australia and the United Kingdom, were recruited for the Melbourne Collaborative Cohort Study between 1990 and 1994. Primary hip and knee replacement for osteoarthritis between 2001 and 2005 was determined by data linkage to the Australian Orthopaedic Association National Joint Replacement Registry. Results Participants born in Italy and Greece had a lower rate of primary joint replacement compared with those born in Australia (hazard ratio [HR] 0.32, 95 confidence interval [CI] 0.26 to 0.39, P <0.001), independent of age, gender, body mass index, education level, and physical functioning. This lower rate was observed for joint replacements performed in private hospitals (HR 0.17, 95 CI 0.13 to 0.23), but not for joint replacements performed in public hospitals (HR 0.96, 95 CI 0.72 to 1.29). Conclusions People born in Italy and Greece had a lower rate of primary joint replacement for osteoarthritis in this cohort study compared with Australian-born people, which could not simply be explained by factors such as education level, physical functioning, and weight. Although differential access to health care found in the population may explain the different rates of joint replacement, it may be that social factors and preferences regarding treatment or different rates of progression to endstage osteoarthritis in this population are important to ethnic disparity.