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Women and Migration: Exploring the Data

Kathleen Beegle's picture
In observance of the International Migrants Day, Dec 18 

International Migrants Day is a call to disseminate information on international migration and look toward further understanding its intersection with economic growth and socioeconomic wellbeing. Here we draw on data from the World Bank Gender Data Portal to highlight four big facts about women AND international migration.

International Women’s Day: How Do Female Migrants Contribute to their Home Countries’ Development?

Sanket Mohapatra's picture

The New York Times recently featured an article on the contribution of female migrants to their families and to their countries of origin and destination. According to the Times, “Eleven years into the 21st century, women migrants have become a formidable force for development — and for the rise of women in developed countries whose careers depend on affordable child care.” Remittances sent by female migrants “…appear to be more frequent, regular and reliable even in times of crisis.”

Female migrants account for about half of an estimated 215 million international migrants in 2010 (UNPD). The share of women in skilled occupations has increased in OECD countries. However, there are very few rigorous studies that specifically consider the role of gender in migration. A few available studies suggest that female migrants typically send money for – and female recipients spend remittances on – human capital investments such as food, education and healthcare of family members (see evidence for Ghana).

Are migration motives and remittances behavior different for women?

Sonia Plaza's picture

Migration is a strategy followed by women when they face poverty or when they widowed or divorced. In India, women mainly migrate because they get married. In other countries women migrate to get better job opportunities, for education purposes or for family reunification. For example in Lesotho, since divorced women or widowers do not count with the income of a male migrant wage-earner, they are the ones who have to support their families.

Case study evidence of migrants’ labor market performance in receiving countries shows that most immigrants from developing countries, regardless of their destination, suffer an earnings penalty and higher inactivity levels and unemployment rates than nationals. In Europe, unemployment rates for immigrants originating from developing countries are uniformly higher than those from more developed economies. This gap is more pronounced for women than men across all skill levels (Page and Plaza, 2006). The situation is not different for immigrants in South Africa. The majority of female workers from Lesotho work in low-paying jobs since they have an irregular migration status. However, they get more money compared to what they get in Lesotho for the same work  that they do in South Africa. The majority of women from Lesotho work as domestic workers, followed by agricultural jobs and in the informal sector (Crush, Dodson, Gay and Leduka, 2010).

International migration by men affects labor market participation by women at home

Gero Carletto's picture

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.

International Migrants Day: the role of women

Sonia Plaza's picture

On this International Migrants Day, I would like to focus on female migrants and labor migration policies that affect them.

I took a one day field trip to Arlington, Virginia last summer to observe how international migrant women contribute to development in their home countries, particularly through remittances and tapping the skills of diaspora communities.