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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).

Receiving remittances in Mexico decreased work by females in informal occupations, but the resulting income decline was more than offset by remittances. Remittance income in Sri Lanka had a positive impact on the weight of children under five in female-headed households. Female African migrants in the OECD send smaller amounts on average ($878 versus $1,446 for males) because of  their lower education, employment and earnings. Similarly, female migrants in Southern Africa send significantly less money than males (Lesotho being a notable exception). Studies by UN Women in Albania, Dominican Republic, Morocco, Philippines and Senegal are broadly supportive of the role of women migrants and remittance recipients.

However, there are social costs to the migration of women. Children left behind may suffer from the loss of attention from absent mothers, but other relatives may substitute and remittances sent by female migrants can enable children to attend better quality schools. Female migrants, particularly those working as domestic help and caregivers, may be subject to abuse at the hands of employers. Female migrants may also end up paying higher remittance costs when they use formal channels. However, advances in new mobile money transfer technologies can benefit female recipients in rural areas, who may otherwise have to travel long distances to collect money sent by their spouses.  There is still a dearth of evidence on many of the relevant issues that household survey data can help to answer.

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