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Migration Closes Gender Gap, Brings Other Social, Health Gains

July 9, 2007

July 9, 2007— International migration not only reduces poverty in the poorer nations where most journeys begin, but can generate a range of generally positive social and health effects in the home countries, particularly among girls, and even including nonimmigrant families.

These are among the key conclusions of the new book International Migration, Economic Development, and Policy, co-edited by Caglar Ozden, Economist in the World Bank’s Development Research Group, and Maurice Schiff, the International Migration and Development Research Program’s Lead Economist .

The book provides new documentation on the already reported positive impact of  migrant remittances on families in 12 Latin and Caribbean home countries. The book’s extensive data and research, which also includes rural Pakistan, Turkey, Egypt and Morocco in its selected case studies, shows how migration can lead to outcomes in developing home countries that:

  • Close the gender gap and put more girls in school and lower their dropout rate.
  • Reduce child labor.
  • Improve child health, particularly girls’.
  • Lower high fertility rates when migration is to low-fertility countries and raise them when migration is to high-fertility countries.
  • Promote entrepreneurship.

In rural Pakistan, the impact of migration in reducing household discrimination that deprives girls of education was dramatic.

Case studies in rural Pakistan and Guatemala and Nicaragua showed migration brought health gains to children, particularly girls, the study reports.

Migrants don’t give up their gains when they return to their home countries, regardless of their education level, the book says.  In Egypt, for example, returning migrants earn nearly 40 percent more than non-migrants, and the gains for uneducated workers with migrant experiences are even higher – 43 percent – than those of highly educated workers – 19 percent.

The report also found that migration can have a significant influence on fertility rates in home countries, reducing them if the workers have their experiences in the West.  For example, in Morocco, as emigration – mostly to Western Europe – steadily rose, fertility rates went in the opposite direction.  A similar downward trend in fertility rates was tracked in Turkey, whose migrants journey mostly to the West.  But in Egypt, during periods of migration – mostly to the socially and culturally conservative Gulf States – fertility rates increased or remained unchanged.

The impact on fertility can be explained by the fact that migrants provide new channels of social and cultural attitudes  to their families and friends back home about the host countries’ modes of behavior.

“As this study shows, the impact of migration on development goes well beyond that of remittances,” said Maurice Schiff, Lead Economist and co-editor of the book.  “Understanding these additional effects — including those on fertility and institutional development —  is essential for the design of effective migration policies and has acquired increased urgency at a time when many host countries are considering reforming their immigration policies.”

Schiff said the book’s findings indicate how migration trends should help shape national policies.  “A source country that is considering implementing a program to improve children’s education and health, reduce the gender gap in these areas, and lower the fertility rate, might consider migration to the West as one element of such a program, and might want to negotiate bilateral migration agreements with its migrants’ main destination countries,” he said..
The book also examines the effectiveness of countries’ immigration policies. For instance, in New Zealand, a policy requiring a prior job offer in order to ensure migrants are of high quality, actually resulted in the migration of those with strong networks because the latter were able to generate job offers for them. In Switzerland, the effectiveness of a policy to reduce immigration by restricting work quotas was hampered by the fact that migration was also possible through the channel of family reunion.

The effectiveness of host countries’ immigration policies is greatly enhanced if their design takes related conditions and policies into account, says Caglar Ozden, co-editor of the book.

The book presents new data on bilateral migration between all the world’s countries. They reveal that there were 175.7 million migrants, including illegal ones, living in host countries worldwide as of 2002. The database shows for the first time the importance of South-South migration, amounting to about one fourth of total migration or two thirds of South-North migration (37 percent). North-North migration is not negligible either (16 percent), closely followed by migration within the Former Soviet Union (15 percent). However, the latter is mainly due to the creation of Russian minorities in the new countries that resulted from the demise of the Soviet Union, rather than to the movement of people.

Economist Schiff said the new data underscore migration’s increasingly important role in shaping the global economy, making it, in effect, “the third pillar of globalization with international trade and capital flows.”

The five leading host countries are:

Country Number of Immigrants (000)
U.S 34,635
Germany 9,143
France 6,277
India 6.271
Canada 5,717

The five leading sending countries are:

Country Number of Emigrants (000)
Mexico 10,099
India 8,959
Bangladesh 6,638
China 5,794
United Kingdom 4,193

However, as a share of the country’s population, the largest sending countries tend to be small and poor. These countries also suffer from the highest rates of skilled labor migration, with over 80 percent of all skilled people living outside their country of origin in a number of Caribbean countries and between 50 and 60 percent in small countries in Sub-Saharan Africa.  

Schiff said forecasts indicate there will be no letup in migration.  “It will not only continue, but increase,” he said.  “The rate of population growth in sending countries will continue to be very large, while in Europe population is declining and getting older.”  He said in Sub-Sahara Africa alone – which was not included in the book’s case studies – population is expected to increase by close to 200 million by 2030.

International Migration, Economic Development, and Policy was launched in Paris on June 28 and Cairo on July 4 – in advance of the launch at the Global Forum on Migration and Development in Brussels July 9-11, which is being attended by policymakers from most home and host countries.