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Impact of emigration

Social impact

Migration might bring financial benefits to the sending communities but it can also be socially disruptive.

Often the burden is borne by women. In countries where the the majority of migrants have been young men, many of whom are married, this gives extra responsibilities to women who have to maintain the household. Some of the most dramatic effects of male emigration are to be seen in Africa, as in Lesotho where men can leave for up to 15 years to work in South Africa. Men who leave South Asian countries typically leave for shorter periods – but often on a large scale: the Indian state of Kerala, for example, has nearly one million "Gulf wives", living apart from their husbands.

When the woman becomes the head of the family, she may suffer from loneliness and the extra workload but she can also gain greater independence. On the other hand, emigration can bring the extended family into play requiring the wife to stay with other family members, or at least get more frequent visits from parents and in-laws. So she may be less free.

Nowadays, however, an increasing proportion of migrants are women – indeed, they now account for around 48 per cent of international migrants. For some countries of origin, women now make up the majority of contract workers, particularly from Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Thailand and Indonesia – mostly for work in domestic service and entertainment, as well as in nursing and teaching. If they are married this can be very disruptive for family life as dramatized in a popular Filipino movie.

A more general concern for communities that send people overseas is the creation of a culture of emigration. This has long been the case in the Caribbean where a history of slavery and indentured labour has left fractured societies in which emigration is seen as one of the most natural options. Young men who have few opportunities at home have come to regard emigration, even if only temporary, as a rite of passage. A similar phenomenon seems to have emerged in Mexico where a whole generation of young people in many communities now direct their aspirations towards El Norte.

Woman in Kerala, India

Woman in Kerala, India. Kerala has one million 'Gulf wives'.
Photo: Paula Rey