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Women and migration: Exploring the data

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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. We focus on the “international migrant stock” which is the number of people born in a country other than that in which they live. Women, men, boys and girls experience migration differently. Accurate and timely sex-disaggregated data on international migration is critical for uncovering the specific needs and vulnerabilities of women and men and for shaping migration policy.

Globally, women are on the move: they comprise slightly less than half of all international, global migrants. In fact, the share of women among global, international migrants has only fallen slightly during the last three decades, from 49 percent in 1990 to 47 percent in 2017.

However, the proportion of women among all international migrants varies considerably across regions. Since 1990, the proportion of female migrants has increased in all regions except East Asia and Pacific (EAP). In Europe and Central Asia (ECA), the share of female migrants slightly increased from 52 percent in 1990 to 52.4 percent in 2017. In South Asia, the percentage of women among international migrants rose from 46.7 to 48.3 percent during this period. The increasing share of women among all migrants in a country is not only determined by women moving to that country -- it may be partly explained by longer female life expectancy of women migrants compared with that of men. In contrast, the share of female migrants in EAP decreased from 48.6 percent in 1990 to 41.7 percent in 2017. The declining share of female migrants may reflect an increase in the demand for migrant workers in male-dominated sectors in parts of the region. When women do not have the same access to work in some occupations, it can affect the gender composition of international migration related to that work.

Income plays a part in gender differences, especially since 2000: A country’s income level tells part of the story of the gender patterns in international migrants. The female share of international migrants has been increasing for low income countries, while decreasing since early 2000s in middle and upper-middle income countries. Between 2000 and 2017, the share of female migrants in upper middle-income countries fell from 49.1 to 43.2 percent. The proportion also dropped in middle-income countries from 48.5 to 45.6 during the same period but increased slightly in low income countries (from 49.2 to 50.2 percent).

Migration is an ever-changing story: Changes in the share of female migrants differ widely by country. Between 1990 and 2017, the share of female migrants increased by at least 1 percentage point in 75 of the 211 countries with data. In 22 of these countries, the recorded change was of 5 percentage points or more.

In contrast, in 67 countries, the share of women migrants declined by at least 1 percentage point during the period 1990-2017. In 8 countries, the decline was more than 10 percentage points.

Own elaboration based on United Nations Population Division, Trends in International Migrant Stock.

To find out more about Gender and Data, visit the World Bank’s Gender Data Portal. In addition to standard sex-disaggregated demographic and economic information, the portal includes indicators to measure progress towards Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) targets related to gender equality. These include national data on the proportion of time spent on unpaid domestic and care work by both women and men (SDG target 5.4) and an indicator on women’s decision making regarding sexual relations, contraceptive use and reproductive health care (SDG target 5.6). Users can also use data visualization tools, and assess the availability of data at the country level; for instance, data on the female share of international migrants in 2017 is available for two-thirds of the economies included in the database.


Eliana Rubiano-Matulevich

Senior Economist at the Poverty and Equity Global Practice for Latin American and the Caribbean at The World Bank

Kathleen Beegle

Research Manager and Lead Economist, Human Development, Development Economics

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