Gendered Patterns of Remitting and Saving among Mexican Families with U.S. Migration Experience

Date01 July 2019
Published date01 July 2019
/tmp/tmp-17T5cDFhI6uFNd/input 853801ANN
THE ANNALS OF THE AMERICAN ACADEMYGendered Patterns of Remitting and Saving
this article explores patterns of remittance sending
among male and female migrants from Mexico to the
United States, and patterns in the use of remittances
among receiving households in Mexico. It also identi-
fies variables that determine remittance sending and
saving behaviors in migrants’ most recent U.S. trip.
Results reveal gendered differences in the investment
and consumption strategies adopted by families in com-
munities of origin. Despite marked differences in the
capacity of women to generate remittances and savings
compared with men, patterns of remittance use by
Patterns of
families in communities of origin are not substantially
distinct, though female migrants are more likely to send
remittances for investments in human capital than male
Remitting and migrants. In addition, remittances and savings sent by
male migrants are more likely to be used in housing
Saving among improvements and investments in productive capital
than those sent by women. these differences do not
necessarily reflect migrants’ preferences, but mirror
the sociocultural contexts in which decision-making
about remittances, savings, and spending take place.
Families with Keywords: remittances; savings; gender; human capi-
U.S. Migration
tal; productive investment
At least since the mid-1990s, remittances
have constituted a substantial flow of for-
eign exchange for Mexico and for the families
of Mexican migrants to the United States. the
well-known “migradollars” described by Massey
and Parrado (1994)—comprising funds sent by
migrants to families in origin countries and
repatriated savings accrued through work in
the United States—reduce market restrictions
stemming from a lack of access to capital and
María Aysa-Lastra is an associate professor of sociology
at Winthrop University. Her work compares patterns of
immigrant integration, vulnerability, and resilience
among Latino immigrants in the United States and
Europe, and remittance use in origin communities from
a gendered perspective.
DOI: 10.1177/0002716219853801
ANNALS, AAPSS, 684, July 2019

credit, allowing receiving families to increase their spending power and have
greater access to capital. When used to fund family micro-businesses, they gener-
ate changes in the income and wealth distributions within communities of origin
(Durand et al. 1996; Garip 2012).
Mexican emigrants, dominated by those living in the United States, sent close
to 24.7 billion dollars in remittances in 2015. In that year, for the first time, the
amount of remittances was larger than foreign exchange from oil revenues
(Fundación BBvA Bancomer y Consejo Nacional de Población 2016). In the fol-
lowing year, the total amount of remittances sent to Mexico rose to around 27 bil-
lion dollars, an 8.8 percent increase. By 2017, Mexico was among the five largest
remittance-receiving countries (the others were India, China, the Philippines,
and Afghanistan). In that year, Mexico received some 30.5 billion dollars, and, by
2018, total remittances had increased by another 10 percent, reaching 33.7 billion
dollars, making Mexico the world’s third largest recipient of migrant remittances
(Ratha et al. 2018).
the pattern of increasing remittances after the Great Recession follows from
the recovery of the job market in the United States, an increase in the percentage
of Mexicans in the United States sending money to families in Mexico, and the
growing repatriation of migrants’ savings. Between 2006 and 2016, the share of
Mexican remittance senders in the United States grew from 50 to 66 percent
(Orozco 2018), an increase likely related to the growing use of wire transfers
offered by an expanding array of financial service providers.
Figure 1 shows the trajectory of remittances to Mexico from 1980 to 2017,
expressed both in absolute terms and as a percentage of GDP. In 1980, remit-
tances accounted for just 0.54 percent of Mexican GDP, but by 2006 the figure
had reached 2.84 percent. Although remittances fell during the Great Recession,
by 2017 they rebounded to account for 2.12 percent of GDP.
trends in remittances to Mexico may be broken down into three distinct
phases: a sustained annual growth rate of 5.5 percent between 1980 and 1996; an
acceleration of this growth to a very high annual rate of about 15 percent between
1996 and 2007; and a sharp decline during the Great Recession followed by
recovery after 2013.
the foregoing trends are closely related to changes in the inflow of Mexican
migrants from the early 1970s to the Great Recession that began in 2007. For
most of this period, Mexican labor migration to the United States was dominated
by men of working age who circulated back and forth across the border. the
participation of women, either as companions or as autonomous agents, was not
salient. the masculinity index decreased over time, from 113 male migrants per
100 female migrants in 1960 to 108 per 100 in 1980, and then increased to 124
per 100, its highest level, in 2000. Between 2000 and 2010, the masculinity index
again decreased to 116 migrant men per 100 migrant women (World Bank 2018).
During the Great Recession, the jobs held by female migrants proved to be
more resilient to the deterioration of the labor market than those held by male
migrants, both for Mexicans (Sisk and Donato 2018) and for Latino immigrants
more generally (Aysa and Cachón 2015). During this time, remittances became
increasingly important as a source of income for families in origin communities

Remittances to Mexico (1980–2017) in Millions of Dollars and as Percentage of GDP
SOURCE: World Bank (2019a).
who themselves struggled with deteriorating living conditions, employment, and
low wages (Arias 2013). taking into account the changing participation of migrant
women in the U.S. labor market, and the erosion of living conditions in Mexico,
this article explores three outcomes from a gendered perspective. First, I examine
male-female differences in the probability of remitting and saving; I then consider
gendered differences in the determinants of remitting and saving; and, finally, I
compare the use of remittances and savings among male and female migrants.
theorizing Migrant Remittances and Savings
the theoretical model put forth by the new economics of labor migration consid-
ers remittances to be a central feature of the migration process (Stark 1991). It
argues that people migrate to generate resources to overcome missing or failed
markets in places of origin, notably markets for capital, credit, crop insurance,
future prices, unemployment insurance, and pensions. Sending home remittances
and accruing savings to repatriate upon return embody these motivations.
Migrants and their families use these migradollars in a variety of ways, applying
them to living expenses, dwelling improvements, and undertaking productive
investments. the arrival of money earned in the United States allows Mexican
families to increase their quality of life and enables them to engage in micro-
entrepreneurship, thus justifying the hardships of the trip and the long separations
from home. Migradollars are the ultimate reward from the migratory project.
In the theoretical model of the new economics, migration decisions are not
made individually, but instead collectively, within households, and those who

send remittances home do so as part of an “implicit contract” with family mem-
bers to diversify income sources and manage risks (Stark and Lucas 1988; Stark
1991). Altruism, solidarity, and the need to participate in family and community
affairs offer additional incentives for the sending of remittances, enhancing fam-
ily cohesion and increasing the likelihood of return migration (Sana and Massey
2005). Historically, Mexican migrants have mostly traveled to the United States
to work temporarily, seeking to earn enough money to cover the cost of the trip,
send back remittances, and accrue savings for use upon return (Massey, Durand,
and Malone 2002). Since the 1990s, however, the hardening of U.S. immigration
policy and the militarization of the border have disrupted the circularity of
Mexico-U.S. migration and undermined long-standing strategies based on tem-
porary, back-and-forth migration (Massey, Durand, and Pren 2015).
Over the years, the relationship between migration and development has been
examined from two distinct perspectives: structuralism and functionalism. the
former perspective is well expressed in world systems theory, which argues that
the receipt of remittances creates a relationship of dependence between sending
and receiving nations that undermines the autonomous development of origin
communities (Reichert 1981; Wiest 1984; Mines 1981; Binford 2002). In con-
trast, functionalist scholars point to multiple direct and indirect benefits of
migrant remittances and savings, which may be used to finance productive
investments within communities of origin, which then have redistributive effects
on distributions of wealth and income. the indirect effects (also called multiplier

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