Factors influencing migration of female workers: a case of Bangladesh
© The Author(s). 2017
Received: 1 September 2016
Accepted: 15 December 2016
Published: 30 May 2017
Unemployment and low wages prevailing in the domestic market pushes female workers to look for better employment abroad. Investment in the shape of remittance further builds human capital, financial capital, and the social capital. The aim of this study is to analyze the trend of Bangladeshi female migrant flow by time and destination. In addition, the study also makes assessment of (i) economic factors (macro and labor market indicators), (ii) demographic factors, and (iii) noneconomic factors, such as religion and distance forcing females to migrate. Time series data for the period 2000 to 2012 is employed to investigate the push and pull factors of female migration. The dynamic panel data approach, generalized method of moments (GMM), is used for estimation purpose. The study concludes that skilled enhancement is a basic need for unskilled migrant.
JEL Classification: F-22, J-16, J-71
Economic, demographic, and technological improvements have boosted the flow of migrants in the globalizing world. The flow though varies across countries, but the determinants of migration are more or less the same. Facts and figure from UN DESA (2013) shows that there were around 232 million international migrants spread all over the world. Out of the total, 59% are in developed and 41% in the developing regions—half of this represents female migrant workforce. Flow of migrant from south to south is near about 36% and from north to north is 35% while the flow from north to south is very low, around 6% only. Around 71% of the international migrants belong to the land of South. Further, international migrant stock by region shows that Europe has 70 million international migrants and Asia has 61 million international migrants while North America is absorbing 50 million international migrants.
More than 90% of migrations in the world have taken place for employment purpose; migrants move either alone or with their families. In terms of development, migrants contribute by sending remittance to their origin country, which leads to economic growth, while at destination, they fill the gaps in labor market. In the origin country, remittance resolves the financial constraint, generates economic activity, and reduces unemployment. Specifically for female migrants, it boosts confidence level and enhances empowerment. These benefits go along with the challenges like restricted government rules and regulations, exploitation by visa processing agents, and low wages (ILO Report 2011).
International female migration trend (1960–2010)
% share of female migrant
Further, during the nineteenth century, British colonial system and other intra-imperial conditions have restricted females to migrate (McKeown 2004). Migration of females at that time was mainly due to the family migration. Females of the twentieth century have individual identity, and they move freely for employment and study purposes. Mostly, low-skilled female migrant workers belonging to Asian countries like Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Indonesia, and Philippines are migrating to gulf countries like Saudi Arabia, UAE, Jordan, and Lebanon, despite several exploitation faced by them in these countries. Mobility of female workers from Asian countries to Gulf countries is mainly due to similarities in cultural and religious norms.
Furthermore, women in labor force are often engaged in informal sector or in the low-paid work. Lack of policies for protection of women is also among the main causes for their involvement in low-paid jobs, i.e., they survive with limited economic opportunities. Looking at the occupational groups, female workers are more vulnerable as they are usually engaged in domestic work providing services as maids, baby sitters, nurses, looking after old age people, etc.; low-skilled; uneducated; and unaware about the job conditions; especially, Asian female migrants from Bangladesh, India, and Sri-Lanka easily become the victim of exploitation. Severity of the exploitation varies; some are paid less than the work perform, some have excessive working hours, and some face physical and verbal abuse.
The main purpose of this study is to estimate the magnitude and trends of female migration flow for employment from Bangladesh to all over the world. The study also aims to estimate the factors influencing international migration of female workers from Bangladesh. Specifically, the study is determined to explore the impact of economic and noneconomic factors on female migration decision. Economic factors are further subdivided into macroeconomic and labor market indicators while noneconomic factors include religion and distance. The analysis of this study is based on the annual time series data for the period 2000 to 2012.
The study contributes to the available literature by empirically estimating the determinants of migration using push and pull factors together in one model. The estimation is done using the data of the last 13 years and by applying the most sophisticated technique generalized method of moments (GMM). The system GMM is applied considering the issue that in Bangladesh where social and cultural norms have restricted female mobility, the decision of migration for work purpose heavily depends on the past experience of female migrants. The application of the time series data (showing trend) is compared across the destination, and exploring the determinants of female migration using GMM is to the best of the knowledge of author first time attempted, especially in the case of Bangladesh. The trend and results presented in the literature will be helpful for the policy makers to develop the migration policies related to female migrants.
The study is divided into the following sections: Section 2 presents the review of literature, Section 3 provides assessment of the trend of female migrant workers from Bangladesh by time, Section 4 discuses the methodology and provides estimation technique and detail about data employed, and Section 5 explores the factors influencing female migration in Bangladesh, while the last section provides conclusions and policy implications.
2 Review of literature
Ghosh (2009) discussed the recent trend of women migration nationally and internationally. His finding revealed that migration has positively impacted sending countries by increasing foreign exchange. Remittances bring improvement in health, education, generate investment, and reduce poverty. Neetha (2004) explored the positive and negative insight of migration concluding that female migrants specifically the domestic workers face a number of challenges related to low wages, long working hours, and harsh working conditions due to settlement and language problems. Mostly, it has been observed in the literature that women are better than men in terms of remitters and savers.
Islam et al. (2013) used the time series data and explored the socioeconomic impact of international migration on Bangladesh. Their results showed that co-integration exists between literacy rate and growth rate of remittance which improves the living standard. However, reduction in the level of poverty is sustainable only through formation of capital. The authors also pointed out that migration has not only opened the new economic opportunities but has also generated decision-making power especially among female workers.
Islam and Siddiqui (2010) explored the association between migration and socio-demographic characters by using the chi-square technique. Their finding revealed that the age at the time of marriage, education, religion, living conditions, and occupation status impact migration significantly.
Asis (2004) discussed the flow of migrants from low- to high-income countries. According to him, majority of the migrants enter through informal sources. About 80% of the illegal migrant belonged to the Asian countries like Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan [The Economist (March 1998)]. Due to informal entrance, these females are easily trapped by the agencies. Mostly, females remained the target. Due to unawareness, the illegal female migrants often spend the rest of their lives in slavery.
Islam (2008) discussed that within Bangladesh, majority of female workers are engaged in garment factories, as care workers in the field of nursing. Country-wise overseas employment trend of migration from 2004 to 2009 shows that females are usually migrating to UAE, KSA, and the Middle East countries. Socioeconomic conditions and unemployment situation pushes the females to migrate.
Ullah (2007) showed that labor force participation rate of females in Bangladesh is high in contrast to overseas female migrant share in the selected Asian countries.1 Ullah has applied both qualitative and quantitative techniques for the comparative analysis between Indonesia and Bangladesh. His study has highlighted that religion is more powerful indicator but has never restricted women migration from Indonesia. In Bangladesh, resistance to female migration occurred because of the social norms, illiteracy, language barriers, and Government policies.
Ullah (2012) using the gravity model revealed that the decision-making power has significant impact on migration. His estimation results indicated that religion and language constraint have more significant effect as compared to other factors. He emphasized on the role of powerful institutions for better manpower export.
Dustmann and Fabri (2003) considered communication skills or language proficiency especially for migrant workers as a tool to get better jobs in destination countries. Age, education, and duration of stay are considered as factors improving language proficiency at destination and proficiency or good command which improves employment opportunities. Authors point out that proficiency in language increased earning by 18 to 20%.
Countries like Sri Lanka and Philippines have higher level of education and thus face large demand of their workers abroad as compared to Bangladeshi women. Women in Bangladesh are surrounded by social norms and Government’s restricted policies. Oishi (2002) approached the issue from three levels micro (individual level), macro (state level), and meso level (society level). The results show that decision-making power of female migrants plays an important role in the struggle of migration. The findings also showed that connection between micro and macro level is related to education, mobility, and employment. These are among the causes of international migration that leads to investment and development.
Dustman (1997) analyzed the behavior of migrant married female workers in the context of temporary and permanent migration. Temporary migrants have an opportunity to shift out in different labor market if their future expectation or plan does not match with the current labor market conditions in contrast to permanent migrants. The bivariate probit estimation technique indicated significant difference among the behavior of returnees between permanent and temporary migrants. The difference among permanent and temporary migrant behavior indicated that decision-making does matter in the process of permanent and temporary migration.
Focusing on Bangladesh, Siddiqui (2012) emphasized on importance of policies related to labor market. According to him, for the developing countries, migration remains a strong source for earning, not only for the migrants but also a source of generating foreign exchange reserves. The period for 2005 to 2010 proves that remittance is double than the net income earned through the garment sector. Bangladesh is facing challenges like unemployment, poverty, low literacy rate, unbalanced economic indicators, and health issues.
Mayda (2010) focused on determinant of migration using demand and supply factors in 14 OECD2 countries. The author found that income and income dispersion impacts migration. In addition, demographic, geographical, and cultural factors are also found to have significant effect. Estimation using panel data technique has explored both the push and pull factors. Major focus was given on host country’s migration policies. The results indicated that less restrictive polices give positive pull effects.
Literature relating to FDI and remittance indicated that FDI brings numerous changes in the host countries. Flow of FDI brings capital, technological improvements, and growth; hence, it provides employment opportunities. This lowers the incentives for migration Alfaro et al. (2004).
Gravity model equation in international trade was introduced by Tinbergen (1962), who used this model to explain the theory that trade flow is mainly influenced by the economic size and distance between the two countries (trade between two countries is directly proportional to economic size and inversely proportional to the square of the distance). He also emphasized the importance of bilateral trade among two countries with respect to common borders, language, and common colonial regulations. The Tinbergen model was earlier used for trade only, but now, it is commonly applied on FDI inflow, migration and remittance flows, and other socioeconomic fields.
This study is based on flow of migration from the OECD countries. The author highlighted the network and welfare effects in origin as well as the destination countries. The study extensively explored the push and pull factors such as employment, income, cost of traveling, geographical, political, and the demographic factors. The results indicated that network effect gives positive impact on immigrant countries. Economic factors provide nonlinear impact and demographic factors vary by countries while geographic factors show negative impact on migration Pederson (2008).
3 Assessment of female migrant workers of Bangladesh
This section presents the pattern of female migration flow from Bangladesh. The purpose is to provide a detail assessment of female migrant workers, i.e., the proportion of female migrated for work purpose, where they are migrating and in what occupation they are mostly engaged in. The trend of migration is highlighted by time in order to analyze changes in the migration pattern in depth.
3.1 Overview of female Bangladeshi workers
In developing countries, due to insufficient jobs availability, informal employment has grown as against growth in formal sector (ILO Report 2011). Unskilled, less educated, and low-paid wage earners are largely concentrated in informal sector. Moreover, in Bangladesh, majority of female workers remain engage in the ready-made garments. This sector absorbs a large number of female labors which causes a decline in the wage ratio. Inequality in wages enforces female to migrate in order to earn better to improve their living standard.
3.2 Trend of Bangladeshi female migrant workers (2000–2012)
3.3 Major destination for migrants
3.4 Category-wise migrant workforce
Migrant workforce by skill
Less skilled workers
Migrant workers by profession
4 Methodology and data employed
The methodology of the paper provides a thorough discussion on factors influencing migration decision model to be estimated, followed by estimation technique, and finally, the data sources applied are discussed with some variable description.
It is hypothesized that increase in population will create unemployment and burden the limited resources, hence foster migration from origin. While in the destination country, high fertility rate means that labor market may fail to absorb the flow of migrant workforce; hence, higher fertility rate will influence migration negatively. In sum, the impact of increase in population on migration decision will be positive for origin while negative for destination.
4.1 Gravity model of migration
The modified law is referred as gravity model of migration. In the model, M ij represents the migration flow from country i to j, while g in the model is the gravitational constant. P 1 and P 2 are the population in the two country and d is the distance. Migration between origin i to destination j remains directly related to the size of origin’s and the destination’s population which is inversely related to the square of the distance between the two. For our model, we used gravity model approach to find the determinants of female migration. The problem we faced in fully adopting the gravity model is nonavailability of the bilateral data on female migrant workforce. Keeping the limitation, the study has estimated the model by including macroeconomic, labor market, demographic, and gravity variables for the origin and destination countries altogether by simply focusing on the out migration from Bangladesh to the rest of the world.
For estimation purpose, the study has applied the system GMM technique. The choice of GMM is because of the hypothesis that migration decision of this year is based on decision taken in the past. However, for the robustness check, we have also estimated the fixed effects model [see results presented in Appendix 2 for robustness check], as well. Further in the equation, u, v, and w represent the number of macroeconomic, labor market, and demographic indicators, respectively, included in the model.
4.2 Estimation technique
It does not make use of all available moment conditions.
It does not take into account the differenced structure on the residual disturbances ∆v it .
Arellano and Bond (1991) then proposed a more efficient estimation procedure. They argue that additional instruments can be obtained if one utilizes the orthogonality conditions which exist between the lagged values of y it and v it . It takes first difference to get rid of the individual effects and uses the past information of y it as instruments.
4.3 Data collection procedure
For estimation purpose, the data of female migrant workforce is taken from Bangladesh Bureau of Manpower and Training (BMET). Demographic and other variables are collected from the secondary sources, such as the World Development Indicators (WDI), United Nation (UN), and CEPII (Research and Expertise on the World Economy). Time frame of the study consists of 13 years, from 2000 to 2012. The data is collected for 19 destination countries.
5 Factors influencing migration pattern of Bangladeshi women
GMM—dynamic panel data estimation for Bangladesh
Lag-dependent variable: log of female migrant flow
Log real gross domestic production per capita (ppp)
Lag 1 of log real gross domestic product per capita (ppp)a
Labor market factors
Log agriculture sector value addition
Log manufacturing sector value addition
Log service sector value addition
Employment to population ratiob
Labor force participation rate femaleb
Log fertility rate
Log real gross domestic product per capita (ppp)
Lag 2 of log real gross domestic product per capita (ppp)a
Labor market factors
Agriculture sector value additionb
Log manufacturing sector addition
Log services sector value addition
Log employment to population Ratio
Lag 1 of labor force participation rate femalea
Log fertility rate
Number of observation
Wald chi2 (19)
Sargan test of over identifying restrictions
As far as macroeconomic indicators are concerned, firstly, real GDP per capita of destination countries exerts positive and significant effect on female migration flow. The results show that a good economic environment attracts migrants. Precisely, 1% increases in the real GDP per capita increase the migrants flow by 95%.
Further, labor market indicators of destination countries show that size of agriculture sector has positive and significant effect while the manufacturing sector exerts negative and significant effect on migration. One percent increase in the size of agriculture and manufacturing sector causes an increase in migration by 53% and a decrease in migration by 73%, respectively. This could be because of the growing demand in destination countries for the females as unskilled workers rather as skilled labor in manufacturing sector.
Further, employment to population ratio is used as a proxy of unemployment ratio which shows significant but negative impact on migration. Another factor explaining labor market conditions showing significant but positive effect is the labor force participation rate of females. In destination countries, share of foreign migrant workers is more than half in the total labor force, like in Oman, share of foreign migrant workers is 73%, in Kuwait 83%, in UAE 89%, and in Qatar the share is 94% [ILO, (2006–2015)].3 Hence, it was hypothesized that any increase in female labor force participation rate and low unemployment rate will further attract the female migrant flow.
Among the demographic factors, lag of fertility rate shows significant and positive impact. One percent increase in fertility rate increases the migrant flow heavily by 311%. The positive impact implies that with increase in the fertility rate at destination, the demand for housemaid’s increases further attracts female migrants. Another demographic factor current population was also included in the regression framework, but in the presence of fertility rate, it was omitted from the estimated model. Among the noneconomic factors, distance shows negative and significant impact.
Moving towards push factors, the real GDP per capita of Bangladesh affects migration decision negatively, i.e., developed the state the lesser will be the outflow of labor. Developing countries have always faced the problem of excess labor, unemployment, limited resources, low level of education, lack of good governance, etc., all these pushing labor force (either male or female) towards developed countries where they enjoy all the economic benefits. The same is true for Bangladesh, where poverty and unemployment are major obstacles in the way of economic development. Negative sign of real GDP supporting hypothesis lowers the economic development, and thus, the higher will be the migration rate. One percent decline in the GDP increases migrant ratio by 53%.
Moving to the labor market conditions in the origin country, the results show that the impact of employment to population ratio is insignificant while the impact of female labor force participation rate influences the female migrant flow negatively and significantly. This shows that any increase in the female labor force participation rate within the origin country reduces the migrants flow as females always prefer to live near their families.
Further, coefficient of agriculture, manufacturing, and service sectors exerts significant positive impact on flow of female migration contrary to the assumption that higher the size of these sectors the lower will be the migration rate. A possible explanation may be that agriculture and industry generates half of the GDP of Bangladesh. During 2005 to 2009, growth rate in agriculture sector was due to growth in the sub-sectors like livestock, fisheries, and forestry but the growth has gradually declined during 2009 to 2013 from 5.24 to 2.17. Its lower growth has foster unskilled labor to move from agriculture sector and enters in the labor market of urban areas. This has gradually increased the pressure on manufacturing and service sectors. The manufacturing sector remained the highest exporting sector due to ready-made garments and textile manufacturing, but the import of capital machinery to improve the productivity of these two sub-sectors declined the employment opportunity of females in these sectors by time as well. The unskilled females from these sectors are now seeking employment either in service sector or moving abroad. Among the demographic factors, fertility rate found to be influencing the migration decision and the effect of which is negative. Any increase in population will decrease the migration rate because of the increase in the number of dependent at home. One percent increase in fertility rate will decrease the migration around 8.5%.
Globalization has raised the economic opportunities for both males and females internationally. Overall estimated migrants in the world are 232 millions, around 3.2% of the world population. About half in million represents women. The growing demand of low-skilled labor in developed countries provides working opportunities for the unskilled labor of developing countries especially for female workers. Asian countries are major supplier of paid domestic workers and care workers to the rest of the world, where Bangladesh is not exceptional. The present study reveals that the past decision of female migrations provides support to pres females who decide to go abroad. The effect of pull and push factors differs as theory predicts. The effect remains mostly according to the theory. The present study proposes that as lack of education creates obstacles for females to enter labor markets, the enhancement of training and skill programs before migration can be fruitful for the success. There is also a need to promote equal and nongender bias employment opportunities for female workers in developing countries. Moral and ethical support of civil society with collaboration of NGOs can facilitate female migrants’ workers.
In log of real GDP per capita of Bangladesh, an indicator of development of origin country shows significant but negative effect confirming the theory that low development of country pushes workers to migrate. In contrast, economic development in the destination country attracts the workforce from the least developed countries by providing economic opportunity and good standards of living. Labor market indicators of Bangladesh such as size of manufacturing, service, and agriculture sectors contribute significantly in motivating the females to migrate. Meanwhile, demographic factors such as high fertility rate of Bangladesh discourage females to migrate by increasing the number of dependent at home while fertility rate of destination country increases the demand for female migrant, mainly to work as domestic workers.
Asian Migrant Centre 1999, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan
Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) (promote policies for economic well being for all over the world)
ILO Asian decent work decade (2006–2015), trend and outlook for labour migration in Asia.
We would like to thank the anonymous referees and the editor for the useful remarks.
The paper is a part of M.Phil thesis done under the supervision of Dr. Ambreen Fatima (the second author of the paper).
Responsible editor: Denis Fougère
The IZA Journal of Development and Migration is committed to the IZA Guiding Principles of Research Integrity. The authors declare that they have observed these principles.
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