Topic 15

Effects of Remittances on Gender Relations

Because migration is a selective process, remittances tend to flow to particular social and ethnic groups within migrant sending communities and societies, and they have differential impacts based on traditional social and gender norms. Therefore, remittances can have profound implications for traditional forms of social and ethnic stratification, most notably involving gender roles.

Three articles draw quite similar conclusions questioning an earlier-held view that male migration empowers spouses left behind by giving them important managerial responsibilities and status within the household and community. De Haas and van Rooij (2010) cite evidence based on their Moroccan survey research that women consider the new responsibilities a burden and given the prevailing patriarchal system may have little independent say-so in how remittances are spent. Almost exactly the same points are made by Menjívar and Agadjanian (2007) based on their in-depth qualitative interviews with women who stayed behind in Armenia and Guatemala when their husbands migrated abroad. An additional point made by the latter authors is that along with remittances came strong pressures on the part of the husband for his wife to cease working outside the home, eliminating this source of power and independence for her. Further support for this interpretation is given in Amuedo-Dorantes and Pozo (2006), whose analysis of a large Mexican government data set suggest that remittances reduce the female labor supply some 10% from what it otherwise would have been, whereas they have no effect on the male labor supply.

A fourth article (Eloundou-Enyegue and Calvés 2006) draws a different conclusion, however. In a large sample of sub-Saharan women, the authors find that female remittances are substantial and even allowing for the patriarchal residential location of married women, they remit to and sponsor foster children from their side of the family.


Topic 15 – Articles

Amuedo-Dorantes, Catalina, and Susan Pozo. 2006. Migration, Remittances, and Male and Female Employment Patterns. AmericanEconomic Review 96 (2): 222–226.

This paper investigates the impact of remittances on employment status and hours worked for men and women.  Based on a nationally representative Mexican survey of over 42,000 individuals of whom 5.5% lived in remittance-receiving households (the 2002 National Survey of Household Income and Expenditures), the authors find that remittance income may decrease or increase hours worked depending on the gender of the recipient and the type of work.  Notably, remittance income has no effect on the male labor supply, but reduces the female labor supply by approximately 10%—suggesting the operation of traditional gender roles (particularly in rural areas) in which women engage in formal sector work only when male-generated household income is insufficient. The authors account for the endogeneity of remittance income using an instrumental variables approach.  Another potential explanation for the findings may be the selectivity of household composition and out-migration patterns.

de Haas, Hein, and Aleida van Rooij.  2010.  Migration as Emancipation? The Impact of Internal and International Migration on the Position of Women Left Behind in Rural Morocco. Oxford Development Studies 38(1): 43-62. (Publisher Link)

This study is based on interviews with 43 Moroccan women married to migrants and non-migrants and surveys of 507 migrant and non-migrant households in six villages of the Todgha Valley in southern Morroco during 1998-2000, in addition to open-ended interviews among prospective migrants from the same area in 2003-2005. The results tend to refute the conclusion that migration liberates and empowers the spouses of male migrants. International migration and remittances do enable Moroccan women and their families to live more comfortable and secure lives (although internal migration often coincides with increasing workloads and uncertainty) and there is a temporary increase in responsibilities and decision-making power, and the enablement of better education for women in the family. However, this new role is generally perceived as a burden by spouses and cannot therefore not be equated with emancipation in the meaning of making independent choices against prevailing gender norms. Furthermore, in a classical “patriarchal” system, the spending of the husband’s remittances is determined by in-laws, especially by the mother-in-law.  Significant improvements in the position of rural women are primarily the result of general social and cultural change, although migration might have played an indirect, accelerating role in these processes.

Eloundou-Enyegue, Parfait M., and Anne Emmanuele Calvés.  2006.  Till Marriage Do Us Part: Education and Remittances from Married Women in Africa. Comparative Education Review 50(1): 1-20. (Publisher Link)

This study derives from a representative sample of 3,369 women from Cameroon, Benin, Malawi, Mali, Rwanda, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. The authors ask whether women in this sample remit in significant amounts, including remittances to support fosterage of children from the woman’s side of the family, and whether women’s educational level is related to this remittance given the common argument that daughters the are “taken over” by the husband’s family upon marriage, and thus their education would be a poor investment for families. Their findings from a multivariate logit analysis are that women have a substantial capacity to remit and this remittance increases with their education level. Even when women are symbolically incorporated into their husband’s lineage through a new residence and bride name, they have considerable leverage in decisions about fosterage and the use of their earnings.

Menjívar, Cecilia, and Victor Agadjanian. 2007. Men’s Migration and Women’s Lives: Views from Rural Armenia and Guatemala. Social Science Quarterly 88(5): 1243-62. (Publisher Link)

This study assesses the consequences of men’s migration for women who stay behind. Though half a world apart, Armenia and Guatemala share the same broad expulsive forces (the Cold War and its aftermath) and their migration streams are predominantly male. In both countries, patriarchal family structures limit the female empowerment that might be expected from remittances and from women’s increased responsibilities at home. The study is based on in-depth village interviews in 2005 with 27 women in Armenia (whose husbands were in Russia), and in 1994-2000 with 29 women in Guatemala (whose husbands were in the United States), in both cases located by chain referral sampling. Overall, the women reported more money for household purchases accompanied by more responsibilities, but relatively little control of how the money was spent and remarkably little independence of behavior. A woman lived under the scrutiny of the husband’s relatives and the husband himself, who telephoned to monitor her actions. An interesting finding is that remittances decreasedthe woman’s ability to work outside the household. It was the man to whom remittances gave power, including the power to withhold permission for his wife to work. Indeed, having a wife who was employed or looking for work was seen by townspeople as evidence of the man’s lack of success abroad.