Topic 7

Gender Determinants of Remittances

Nearly 50 percent of the world’s migrants are female.  Along with their rising profile in remittance flows, there is a growing recognition that gender plays an important role in the remittance process, as well as shaping its impacts in the origin country environment.  Nonetheless, there has until recently been limited research dedicated to understanding how gender affects the remittance process. Pfieffer et al (2007) present an overview of the theoretical and empirical issues on the effects of gender on international migration and remittances.

To explore how the remittance behavior of women and men differ and what the impact of these differences may be, one strand of literature mainly examines the remitting behavior of migrants abroad. Because female migrants tend to earn lower incomes and often have lower rates of labor market participation in the host country, it might be expected that they would remit less than their male counterparts. However, a key question is not the amount, but the share of income that is remitted to the origin family. On this criterion, Osaki (1999), analyzing the data from the Thai National Migration Survey, finds that female migrants remit a relatively higher proportion of their income than do male migrants. Abrego (2009) comes to a similar conclusion for Salvadoran migrants in the United States. Fathers who are away remit less, and more intermittently, than mothers. She attributes this to different role expectations, by which women are expected to sacrifice but “men will be men” and are accorded more independence and moral latitude including a more distant relationship with their children. She carries her analysis a step farther. Interviews with children in El Salvador indicate that a much larger proportion of children in mother-away households are thriving economically, than in father-away households.

Another strand of literature picks up on this latter theme, focusing on the impact of gender on the use of remittances by recipients based in the origin country. Researchers have examined whether female recipients channel a larger fraction of received remittances into health, nutrition and educational investments for the origin family and whether they are more likely to maintain social ties with their origin families, which tends to be associated with future remittance flows. Rahman and Fee (2009) find that among temporary migrants from Indonesia to the Asian tigers and Malaysia, female recipients used remittances to invest in human capital, whereas male recipients invested more in physical capital. King and Vullnetari (2009) reflect on this same issue, but from a different perspective. The patriarchal nature of Albanian society dictates that a power structure of in-laws (particularly the father-in-law and brothers-in-law) based in the husband’s household often determines how women’s remittances are spent. Thus, even when females remit, they have relatively little control of the uses of these remittances.

Some other empirical studies have been rather more inconclusive or reached opposite conclusions. For instance, drawing on household survey data, Semyonov and Gorodzeisky (2005) showed that Filipino male overseas workers remit more money than do women. This might indicate that whereas women are often under higher social pressure to remit money, men might be able to send more money because of their generally higher earnings. In line with this hypothesis, the authors reveal that earnings of Filipina overseas workers are lower than those of Filipino workers, even after controlling for variations in occupational distributions, destination countries, and socio-demographic variables. Even when controlling for income differentials between men and women, Filipino men still remitted more money than female migrants did.


Topic 7 – Articles

Abrego, Leisy. 2009. Economic Well-Being in Salvadoran Transnational Families: How Gender Affects Remittance Practices. Journal of Marriage and Family 71, November: 1070–1085. (Publisher Link)

The gender of migrant parents affects transnational families’ remittance behavior and economic well-being. Drawing on 47 in-depth interviews with Salvadoran immigrants in the United States and 83 interviews with adolescent and young adult children of migrants in El Salvador, the author finds that, although men hold better jobs and are legalized to a higher degree than women, their remittances are lower and more inconsistent. As a result, mother-away children in El Salvador are often thriving economically whereas father-away children are just getting by. Because of gendered social (and moral) expectations women tend to make extreme sacrifices.  They often enter into new relationships abroad to share expenses and remit more to their children. Men tend to spend more money on recreation and drinking and they diminish their home ties over time, especially when they find new partners abroad (and definitively, if their wives in El Salvador find new partners).


King, Russell, and Julie Vullnetari, J. 2009.  The Intersections of Gender and Generation in Albanian Migration, Remittances and Transnational Care, Geografiska Annaler: Series B, Human Geography 91 (1): 19–38. (Publisher Link)

Drawing on in-depth interviews with over 200 Albanian migrants in Italy, Greece, the UK and Albania, the authors reflect on the intersection of gender and generation in emigration, the sending and receiving of remittances, and the care of family members (mainly the migrants’ elderly parents) who remain in Albania. The mass emigration of one quarter of the population that ensued from the collapse of Communism in 1990  led to a redeployment of traditional patriarchal power structures both at home (to face the new vulnerability to inequality and unemployment) and abroad (in response to the threat of a new morality). Young males, who constitute the majority of the migrants, channel remittances into their natal families, to which, if they are married, their wives move and become subservient. Migrant households with only daughters are left at a distinct disadvantage. Albanian migrants are faced with conflicting and confusing models of gender, behavioral and generational norms, as well as unresolved questions about their legal status and  uncertain economic, social and political developments in Albania.

Osaki, Keiko. 1999. Economic Interactions of Migrants and Their Households of Origin: Are Women More Reliable Supporters? Asian and Pacific Migration Journal 8 (4):447–471.

Based on an analysis of Thai National Migration Survey data, this paper examines, from a gender perspective, the transfers of money and goods between internal migrants and their households of origin.  One of the salient features of internal migration in Thailand is the increasing participation of women in such mobility. The analysis suggests that migration functions as a survival strategy of many Thai households. The flows of money and goods into migrant sending households are large and essential supplements for the livelihood of the households. Presumably conditioned by traditional gender roles in Thai culture, female migrants seem to show deeper commitment than male migrants in providing economic supports for their households left behind.

Pfeiffer, Lisa, Susan Richter, Peri Fletcher, and J. Edward Taylor. 2007. Gender in Economic Research on International Migration and Its Impacts: A Critical Review. In The International Migration of Women, edited by A. R. Morrison, Schiff, Maurice and Mirja Sjöblom. Washington, DC: World Bank.

The objective of this paper is to present an overview of the theoretical and empirical literature on the effects of gender on international migration and remittances.

Rahman, Md Mizanur, and Lian Kwen Fee. 2009. Gender and the Remittance Process: Indonesian Domestic Workers in Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia. Asian Population Studies, Vol. 5, No. 2, July: 103-125. (Publisher Link)

Based on 100 interviews with Indonesian domestic workers in Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong and migrant households in Central Java the authors find that this migration stream has become increasingly female in recent years and, owing to restrictions on settling in host societies, largely temporary. The article explores how gender affects remittance-sending, receiving, control, and use, and the resultant implications for development. Despite their lower incomes, female domestic workers remit a greater share of their earnings than their male counterparts and they tend to remit to their mothers and sisters rather than to fathers, brothers and husbands. Discretion in the use of remittances is evenly split between senders and recipients.  Female recipients tend to use remittances to invest in human capital, including daily consumption and household maintenance, whereas male recipients spend on physical capital, including land purchases and productive investment.

Semyonov, Moshe and Anastasia Gorodzeisky. 2005. Labor Migration, Remittances and Household Income: A Comparison between Filipino and Filipina Overseas Workers. International Migration Review 39 (1): 45–68. (Publisher Link)

Based on a representative sample of 1,128 Filipino households with overseas workers, the article examines gender differences in patterns of labor market activity, economic behavior and economic outcomes among labor migrants. While focusing on Filipina and Filipino overseas workers, the article addresses the following questions: whether and to what extent earnings and remittances of overseas workers differ by gender; and whether and to what extent the gender of overseas workers differentially affects household income in the Philippines. The findings reveal that men and women are likely to take different jobs and to migrate to different destinations. The analysis also reveals that many more women were unemployed prior to migration and that the earnings of women are, on average, lower than those of men, even after controlling for variations in occupational distributions, country of destination, and sociodemographic attributes. Contrary to popular belief, men send more money back home than do women, even when taking into consideration earnings differentials between the genders. Further analysis demonstrates that income of households with men working overseas is significantly higher than income of households with women working overseas and that this difference can be fully attributed to the earnings disparities and to differences in amount of remittances sent home by overseas workers. The results suggest that gender inequality in the global economy has significant consequences for economic inequality among households in the local economy. The findings and their meaning are evaluated and discussed in light of the household theory of labor migration.