It has become relatively common to speak about the changing role of women in migration and, in particular, of the fact that they are more and more taking the lead in migration, with their spouses joining them later. This is in contrast to the traditional view of the male worker going first, becoming established and bringing in his family once the employment and living situation has stabilized and he has saved enough to pay their way. A second traditional pattern is for the family to migrate as a unit, with the male spouse being the so-called “principal migrant”, that is, the one who arrives with a job or who enters the labor market upon arrival. Such family migration patterns are of course not the only kind observed; migration also takes place among single persons, for which there is no subsequent family reunification, except perhaps in cases where the migrant returns to the origin country to find a spouse.
One reason for the perception that migration patterns are changing, aside from the fact that women are more present in the labor market generally than in the past, is the fact that certain jobs available to immigrants are in occupations which have tended to be more taken up traditionally by women than men. This is especially the case for household occupations, particularly those involving care, whether of children or the elderly, or those related to domestic service.
Still, for most countries of the Americas, the immigration of women from other countries of the Americas remains a minority phenomenon, with 45% of immigrants overall being women, approximately the same percentage as for immigrants from the rest of the world (Table 2). Only in Chile and Costa Rica do women constitute a majority of immigrants. At the other end of the spectrum, women account for less than 40% of all immigrants in Canada, Peru and Colombia.
Table 2. Women’s share of total immigration in the Americas, 2012-2013
|From the Americas||From the rest of the world||From the Americas||From the rest of the world||From the Americas||From the rest of the world|
|(percent of immigrants who are women)|
As family members arrive in destination countries to join the original migrant, there is a natural tendency for the balance between the two genders to equalize. A surer indication of the extent to which the traditional pattern is changing is to look at the relative presence of men and women in family and labor migration, respectively. But here as well, one observes the traditional pattern of a significantly greater presence of women among family migrants (59%) and a lesser presence among labor migrants (32%, Figure 5). The traditional pattern is stronger among immigrants from the Americas than among those from the rest of the world.
Figure 5. Women among labor migrants in the Americas, 2012-2013
Indeed, there are only two exceptions to this in the statistics shown in Table 2, namely family migration in Colombia, where women are a distinct minority, and labor migration in Costa Rica, where women account for more than three fourths of all labor migrants. In addition, family migration in Bolivia and labor migration in Chile tend to be about evenly split between the two genders. The percentage of women among labor migrants is lowest in Canada, where the percentage of women among temporary foreign workers, including in particular agricultural workers, was scarcely 9%.
Thus, if the traditional pattern of migration into countries of the Americas is indeed changing, it is, with some exceptions, still far from a situation in which the genders are playing on average the same role.