Gender Ratios in Global Migration: Men who Migrate, Women who Wait?

June 24, 2015

This resource uses a text and graph to show how the gender ratio of international migrantsthe proportion of male to female migrantshas changed over time. Its goal is to stimulate thinking about shifting gender ratios in global migration and to consider how migration affects men and women differently.


Scholars of migration note how men and women experience the migration process differently. Gender, culturally constructed ideas of what it means to be female and male, has shaped how, when, and where men and women move across national borders and within nation-states. In the late 19th century, geographer E.G. Ravenstein used 1871 census data from the United Kingdom to hypothesize a number of "laws of migration" that attempted to explain human mobility. One of these laws concluded that women were more migratory than men overall, but the distances women traveled remained short. Long-distance migration, Ravenstein argued, was preserved primarily for men. While men tended to predominate long-distance migration from certain sending countries, new trends since the 1960s reveal that many more women are traveling longer distances. The shifting gender ratio in migration patterns is affected by various factors, including large scale economic changes, new labor demands, communication and technological innovations, modifications of national migration laws, and changing ideas about womanhood and manhood. Since the 1960s in particular, the "femininization" of international migration has prompted scholars to ask more probing questions about variations in gender ratios in migration patterns: Why do some countries send men, while others send women? Which countries send women and which countries send men? How have these numbers change over time?


The following resources explore how gender ratios in global migration change over time.

  1. PDF iconThe Laws of Migration.pdf describing female migration in the United Kingdom.
    Ravenstein, E.G. "The Laws of Migration." Journal of the Statistical Society of London. Vol 48, N. 2 (June, 1885): 196-199.
  2. The graph that depicts shifts in women's presence among immigrants in a total of 20 nations.
    Alexander, Trent J., Katharine M. Donato, Donna R. Gabaccia, and Johanna Leinonen. "Women's representation among the foreign-born in 20 countries." Data from the Integrated Public Use Microdata Series films (IPUMS-USA and IPUMS-International), North Atlantic Population Project (NAAP). (Reprinted here with authors' permissions.)

Gender Ratios Graph

Discussion Questions

  1. What does Ravenstein argue about the differences between male and female migration patterns in the United Kingdom during the late-19th century? How does he explain variations among gender ratios in different countries?
  2. What long-term trends related to changes in the proportion of women international migrants can you identify from the IPUMS graph? Which countries have the most women migrants?
  3. How does the graph both challenge and support some of Ravenstein's conclusions about gender and migration in the late 1800s? Hypothesize about some of factors that might explain the "feminization" of international migration.

Suggested Readings

Tobler, Waldo. PDF iconMigration: Ravenstein, Thorntwaite, and Beyond.pdf Urban Geography. Vol. 16, No. 4 (1995), 327-343.

Donato, Katherine. "Understanding US Immigration: Why Some Countries Send Women and Others Send Men." In Seeking Common Ground: Multidisciplinary Studies of Immigrant Women in the United States, edited by Donna Gabaccia. New York: Greenwood Press, 1992.

Oishi, Nana. Women in Motion: Globalization, State Policies and Labor Migration in Asia. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2005.

Gabaccia, Donna, Katherine Donato, Jennifer Holdaway, Martin Manalansan, and Patricia Pessar, eds. International Migration Review. Special issue on "Gender and Migration." Vol. 40, Spring 2006.