Published on People Move

The remittance house: gendering of Nigerian migrant investments 

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In Observance of International Migrants Day (December 18)

A remittance house is one that was built with money sent by a migrant from their host country to their country of origin. It shows the migrant’s commitment to their homeland and often shapes the infrastructure landscape in its neighbourhood. The house could be for the use of family members back home, or for the migrant’s own use during visits, or on their eventual return. It could also be an investment for rental income. 

Both male and female migrants send money for housing, in addition to supporting the daily life of family members. However, interest in having a second home in the origin country is typically more associated with men than women. Existing literature suggests that a large part of women’s money transfers is intended to provide for the upkeep of children and other family members who they left behind, whereas men are likely to include provision for investment in business, or to acquire property to facilitate their eventual return home. This is often thought to be because while women may gain greater personal and financial freedom through migration; men often experience loss of status and privileges. Hence, women are likely to favour settling at the host country more than men.

A recent research project at SOAS, University of London examining money transfers along the UK-Nigeria corridor, points to the need for greater nuance and further research in this area. A sample of people of Nigerian origin living in the UK were surveyed, to investigate what motivates the transfers and the impact on the infrastructure landscape in Nigeria. The UK is an established destination for Nigerian migrants, and a key connection in efforts to mobilise remittances for productive uses. 

Housing emerged as a key arena of interest and financial activity among Nigerian migrants. In the five-year period prior to the research survey, participants had sent an average of £2,200 yearly towards building or buying a house in Nigeria. There was indeed a substantial gender difference: in the period in question, men sent £2,600 while women sent £620 yearly. However, this was not necessarily because men were more homeward oriented than women. There are other possible explanations for the difference which have not been fully explored in the literature.

First, Nigerian society is largely patriarchal, which imposes barriers to entry and participation of women in the labour market and in income earning opportunities. This is reflected in: the conditioning of girls to marry early and start a family, a gender gap in education, and religious restrictions preventing women from being part of a visible workforce. The man is often seen as the head of the household, breadwinner and ultimate decision maker. Hence, there is a cultural expectation that men would provide the funds for the family house. While there is a fairly strong assumption that migrant women would be economically active outside the home, Nigerians abroad are still influenced by these patriarchal relations, and this often shapes who invests in housing. Although this is changing, notably, women would not be thought of badly for not investing in a house at home, whereas men might be.

Second, Nigerian women migrants may earn less at work than their male counterparts due to wider workplace inequality and the gender pay gap. Thus, men are likely to have more disposable income than women from which they could send money home. Moreover, a third of the surveyed migrant women lived alone or as single parents, which would lower the disposable income available to them. Often, single parent migrant women are responsible for their children without significant support from the fathers. 

Third, ascertaining the source of money that is sent for housing investments, in couple relationships, is a methodological challenge, where there may be joint savings accounts or borrowing that is secured against jointly owned property. In some instances, men have simply been the ones who made the money transfer arrangements and therefore reported having made the investment, while female partners remain less visible but still contribute.

These specific issues of gender norms, structural inequality, and family situations, have tended to be overlooked, suggesting we need more fine-grained analysis of the gendering of remittances and migrant investments in Nigeria and in other countries of origin. 


Femi Bolaji

Dept. of Development Studies, SOAS University of London, London

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