As we learn to manage migration as a growing reality that crosses lives as it crosses borders, and regenerates society as it renews humankind’s eternal quest for safety and prosperity, we can see in the numbers just how different migration can be for women compared with men, and how we must rely on sex-disaggregated data on things like labour force participation, remittances, household incomes to prepare for the future lying just ahead.
Let’s start with location. The 258 million of uswho are residing in another country are found today on six continents: Asia, Africa, North America, South America, Australia and Europe. Yet in only two of those continents—Africa and Asia—do males represent the majority. In Asia (the largest migration destination with just under 80 million migrants) men lead by a lot: 57.6% compared to 42.4% women—a gap of over 15 percentage points. In Africa, with almost 25 million international migrants, the difference is smaller, approximately 6 percentage points. Everywhere else, the percentage of women female migrants now exceed those of men — by four points in Europe, three in North America, two in Oceania and just under one point in Latin America and the Caribbean.
This relative importance of women among all migrants in many regions speak to womankind’s changing status across the planet, something migration both reflects and furthers, and both causes and effects. Gender affects migratory decisions, migratory experiences such as work opportunities and exposure to risks, and effects of migration on remittance flows.
Examining the data collected since 1990, we learn that:
- more women than men migrate to higher-income countries, while a decreasing proportion of women migrate to lower-income regions.
- more women are migrating on their own or as heads of households, often in pursuit of better economic or educational opportunities.
- labour force participation rates of migrants were higher for migrant women (63.5 per cent ) than their native-born equivalents (around 48.1 per cent)—and in all groups except low-income countries.
- higher education levels have been found to be positively associated with increased migration for women. Even women who hold highly skilled in their home countries find they can improve their incomes filling a lower-skilled job abroad. Many of these migrants eventually cycle back up to their previous profession in their new country.
These are positive developments. The data points clearly to a worldwide women’s empowerment and their increasing role across the globe. Over the course of two decades women are becoming better educated everywhere. That raises their value in the global labour marketplace, which means they have more incentive to look for, and go to, work opportunities that reward their talent.
And it’s paying off, especially for the origin countries (and families) that invest in their girl children’s schooling. Migrant women remit homeward a greater portion of their earnings than do their male counterparts, regardless of nationality or in which countries they reside. Female migrants are also less likely than male migrants to have run-ins with law enforcement in the places they migrate to, or to be deported.