This project is funded under Socio-economic Sciences and Humanities

Media Policy Makers Researchers Civil Society Organizations
LogOn  Register
Lost Password

Gender, Age and Generations

IMISCOE aims at ...

IMISCOE is a Network of Excellence uniting 23 established European research institutes of all branches of the economic and social sciences, the humanities and law. It implements an integrated, multidisciplinary, comparative research programme on international migration, integration and social cohesion with Europe as its central focus. IMISCOE has three general aims: providing a unique infrastructure to develop innovative research programmes, promoting high-quality training for PhD students and publishing the results of research. IMISCOE is composed of nine thematic research clusters.

Cluster 8 examines the time dimension of migration and integration processes, as well as several cross-cutting parameters such as gender, age, changing family structures, and generations. Its key problematique is how migration (and integration) unfolds and expresses itself through time, across generations, and as a gendered process. C8 shows specific interest in ‘new’ or under-researched forms and aspects of migration/mobility. For gender issues, two ongoing C8 research sub-clusters are especially interesting:

  • 1. “Love, Sexuality and Migration” analyses motives which have been consistently overlooked in the literature on migration, but can be considered as equally valid, though less conventional, motivations for migration.
  • 2. “Gendered Migrations and the European Labour Market” aims to explore how gender relations intersect with labour market sectors in the migration process.


On the theme Love, Sexuality and Migration the C8 cluster organised a workshop in March 2008. The discussed papers use a range of qualitative methodologies and investigate migrations that involve: 1) love for a boy or girlfriend, for a tourist, for a pimp or trafficker, for a (future) husband or wife, for a parent, for a child; (2) the need to escape prejudice and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation; and (3) the desire for a more fulfilling expression of sexual identity and for a richer emotional life. Selected papers on these issues were published in August 2009 in a special issue of the leading academic journal Mobilities.

In June 2008, C8 organised a workshop on Gendered Migrations and the European Labour Market which welcomed papers from different disciplinary perspectives using qualitative and quantitative methodologies. They address a wide range of employment areas ranging from unskilled to highly skilled work.

Beside such workshops, IMISCOE has published a range of publications and policy briefs, some of which integrate the gender perspective. These are: Diversity, equality and discrimination in working life”, “Illegal migration: how gender makes a difference” and “Family migration in Europe: policies vs. reality”


Research findings

Love, sexuality and migration

Migrations are rarely exclusively motivated by economic or political considerations. The full relevance of the decision to migrate and to continue living and working abroad can only be understood by taking into consideration the affective, sexual and emotional dimensions. Definitions and understandings of what constitutes love, sexuality, their mutual relations and the degree of centrality they should occupy in people’s understanding of themselves as individuals and as parts of collective social formations play a key role in the operationalisation of hierarchies of civility within and across nations. These hierarchies are intersected by and in turn encompass migratory phenomena. Intersectionality refers to the way in which different social and cultural categories – like race, ethnicity, class, gender, age and sexuality – overlap and interact within social relations and processes to legitimise specific social hierarchies and inequalities. The different globalised intersections of love, sexuality and migration inform and are informed by existing narratives and practices of migration and settlement.

Diversity, equality and discrimination in working life
To achieve equal opportunities, there must be an assessment of when and why immigrants and ethnic minorities are excluded from various labour market opportunities and what measures can be taken in response. When correcting labour market outcomes with factors such as educational background,

language skills and length of stay a relatively high percentage of labour market exclusion remains unexplained. Much research points to discrimination as a factor frequently at play. Discrimination is multifaceted combining different possible forms and entailing different causes behind these: direct, indirect, institutional and legal discrimination. Legal discrimination means that State policy and immigration regulations can negatively influence the workforce position of migrant and minority ethnic populations. Legal discrimination especially affects women. Because women disproportionally migrate through a family network, their initial entry into the labour force is usually delayed or restricted. Migrant women are therefore often turned away from pursuing regulated professions and employment in the public sector and are instead overrepresented in domestic labour and care-giving. In many countries however, domestic labour is not protected by labour market legislation because the home is not seen as a workplace. This limits migrant women in their career opportunities and makes them very vulnerable, if not altogether invisible.

Illegal migration: how gender makes a difference
To understand a migrant’s choice to migrate illegally and to remain illegal in the receiving country, his or her position prior to the migration must be considered. Women often experience unfavorable circumstances in their country of origin: in this respect, migrating illegally and/or remaining illegal become attractive options for them. If there is a great disparity between the rights of illegal and legal migrants in the receiving society, migrants will gain from legislation programmes or from migrating legally. What a society considers legal and illegal hinges on gender-based constructs, as do the responses of sending and receiving states towards the illegal migration of men and women. Gender-based differences are seen as given, without any acknowledgement that such disparities are also the outcome of government policies based on political and public discourses. Policymakers are well aware that disparities exist between men and women within illegal migration, but this manifests itself in the political discourse as an oversimplified dichotomy: women as being at risk and men as posing a threat.

Family migration in Europe: policies vs. reality
Family-related migration has become one of the main, if not –as in some countries- virtually the only legal means for people to gain admission. Yet, current political and public debates increasingly see the ‘migrant family’ as an obstacle to integration, as a site characterized by patriarchal relationships, illiberal practices and traditions such as arranged and forced marriages. As a result, family-related modes of migration are more and more becoming subjects to restrictions. Many assumptions upon which family migration policies and broader public debates are constructed fail to account for the reality of migrant family lives and its related forms of migration. At the same time little attention is paid to the consequences policies have on those affected, or whether policies and policy measures actually reach their objectives. The concrete ways family migration policies actually work tend to increase inequality. Furthermore, current policy regulations seem to discriminate against third country national and female immigrants.


Focus on …

In the case of Portugal, the predominance of a demand for workers in the construction sector and a probable lower demand for live-in domestic workers prevented the development of such markedly female labour-based migratory trends. However, in recent years Portugal has seen an increase in the arrivals of lone women, mainly from East European countries.

In terms of flexible working conditions, measures are aimed at increasing the flexible work options for all women, and in particular for those in senior positions: the latter to be achieved through providing funds for companies to increase the number of senior part-time positions.

Focus on …

In the case of Spain, the 1990s saw the appearance of a series of feminised labour trends, made up essentially of lone Latin American women who acted as pioneers in the migratory chain. This feminisation of Latin American immigration is attributable to the rise in demand for immigrant workers in domestic and care services, as well as the existence of a migratory policy which in the late 1990s favoured female immigration. Indeed, one of the principal characteristics of Spain’s migratory model during this period was the large number of transnational households headed by women. However, the start of the 21st century saw the gradual masculinisation of Latin American immigration. The boom in the construction sector, together with a series of changes in Spain’s migration policy, gradually enabled these female pioneers to regroup their families. In turn, this led to the restructuring of the labour market, as well as changes to the strategies employed by immigrant households.

Focus on …

A number of qualitative studies carried out in France have revealed the existence of women migrating on their own, even within the framework of traditionally masculinised migratory flows. However, statistical studies continue to highlight the fact that female migration falls mainly within the framework of family regrouping even if women outnumber men among some recent flows (new EU members, South-Asia). The labour market, together with France’s public policies, remains firmly in favour of male immigrants, leading to a situation of invisibility for female immigrants in the domestic service and care sectors.

Focus on …

Gender Differentiation in Seasonal Migration in Poland
Seasonal migration is a migratory move between areas of origin and destination that is of a duration shorter than a year, is not associated with relocation of permanent residence, is timed to cater for (or to coincide with) peak demands for labor at destinations, and is typically repetitive. Seasonal migration is usually a family phenomenon in the sense that seasonal migrants go abroad on behalf of their families, that is, to earn additional income for their families who stay behind. While contemporary seasonal migration from Poland to Germany is not the only important form of migratory outflow from the country, it has long been, and continues to be, a significant outflow. The current outflows are regulated by a bilateral agreement signed by Poland and Germany in 1990. While employment is not restricted to particular branches of the economy, more than 90 percent of all the seasonal workers from Poland take up jobs in German agriculture. The 1990 agreement did not impose any constraints on the migration of women as opposed to the migration of men. The nature of (seasonal) agricultural work in Germany is such that this work is not technically hostile to women.
Even though the actors of seasonal migration are individuals, families participate in migration in a variety of ways, playing major roles in the selection of migrants, and in adjusting to their absence. For example, the selection of a migrant among family members is influenced by the extent of the engagement of the family member in the fulfillment of every day’s household chores, and not only by the situation of that member in the local labor market. The combination of work and domestic responsibilities in Poland with seasonal work in Germany is typically costlier for the household in the case of migration by women, and of migration by married women in particular, than in the case of migration by men. In other words, the husband’s absence entails a lower cost to the family than the wife’s absence. This helps explain the relatively low percentage of women among seasonal workers (one-third of all migrants). Still, women constitute a considerable share of seasonal migrants. The paper shows that the households from which women seasonal migrants originate are poorer than the households from which men seasonal migrants come; poverty speaks loud as women are pushed into seasonal migration by economic hardship more than men.
Although contemporary seasonal migration is legal, the recruitment procedure is informal, it draws on long-term relationships between German employers and Polish employees, and “new” migrants join in through the help of “old” migrants. The paper provides analytical considerations that explain the different types of networking of women and men. It predicts, and then finds, that men, who often precede women as first movers, recruit mainly close family members, whereas women’s recruitment is more diffused, extending to remote family members, friends, and acquaintances.

Policy recommendations

Key messages

  • Migrations intersect with different social and cultural categories – such as race, ethnicity, class, gender, age and sexuality. Migrations are rarely exclusively motivated by economic or political considerations. The full relevance of the decision to migrate and to continue living and working abroad can only be understood by taking into consideration the affective, sexual and emotional dimensions.
  • Discrimination can be tackled through implementation and changes in laws. Still, organizational level policies and actions also play a crucial role, all the more because recruitment is not the only moment when exclusion takes place but also when opportunities and terms of employment are being formulated.
  • Most of the current research on domestic and care has emphasised the experiences of migrant women in stratified local labour markets and the employer-employee relationships. The role of men working in the sector has been largely overlooked. Another, related lacuna in current empirical research is the feeble theorisation regarding gender. Gender is taken for granted and rarely defined in most of the research on the subject.
  • Current family migration policies tend to increase inequalities, if not altogether deny equal access to rights. In order to design state policies that do justice to the reality and complexity of family migration, these policies should be based on firm evidence, systematically evaluated in terms of their objectives and consequences; they should also recognize gender inequalities, shun legal insecurity and avoid locking certain persons into precarious positions.
  • Creating policies that effectively combat illegal migration must involve more than a look at how the rights of illegal migrants compare to those of legal migrants: policy makers must also compare the rights of men and women in the sending society with those –who are legal or not– in the receiving society. Moreover, awareness of gender-based differences should be put into concrete effect: to show how disparities between male and female migration are as much-if not more- the result of policy rather than a reason for it.