I am the World Bank’s Director for the Western Balkans, and I live in Vienna, Austria, where thousands of refugees, mostly fleeing from conflict in Syria and Afghanistan, are now straggling across the border from Hungary after harrowing trips on crowded boats, uncomfortable stays in makeshift camps, cramped bus rides and long journeys on foot when all else fails.
My father’s parents were refugees to America. They were Jewish peasants from Russia who fled the pogroms of the early twentieth century. My mother’s great-grandparents were economic migrants, educated German Jews who went to Chicago in the mid-nineteenth century to seek their fortune in grain futures and real estate. When my parents married in the early 1950s, theirs was considered a “mixed marriage”: Russian and German; peasant stock and educated elite; refugees and economic migrants. I know the difference between the latter two: refugees are pushed out of their home countries by war, persecution and a fear of death; economic migrants are pulled out of their home countries by the promise of a more prosperous life for themselves and their children.
While the beneficial impacts of migration and remittances on social welfare have been well documented, we know very little about the effects of migration--mostly by men-- on the local labor market behavior of women. To help address this gap, Mariapia Mendola (of the University of Milan) and I explored the gender aspects of migration and economic development in Albania over the past fifteen years. We decided to examine Albania during this period in greater detail because economic hardship during transition fostered massive migrant outflows, mostly to neighboring Greece and Italy. Also, male migration is an ordinary and widespread phenomenon in Albania.
Using unusually detailed international migration histories from the 2005 Albania Living Standards Measurement Survey, we found that Albanian households with family members (mostly sons and daughters) living abroad are less likely to have women in paid employment. However, male spouses with past migration experience exert a positive influence on female self-employment. The same effect is not seen for men when women migrate. Our findings suggest that over time, male-dominated, shorter-term migration may increase the income-earning opportunities for women at home.
Our working paper based on this research was published last month in the World Bank's Policy Research Working Paper series.