Effect of migration on the family left-behind

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This article provides a quick review of the recent literature on the microeconomic effects of migration on individuals and families left-behind. This literature is mainly concerned with the multidimensional impacts that both domestic and international migration can cause at origin, with a focus on developing countries. Unless otherwise stated, the studies cited here investigate the microeconomic effects of international migration and rely mainly on quasi-experimental identification strategies, including variations of difference-in-differences, instrumental variables and propensity score matching approaches. Few studies rely on experimental variation coming from randomized immigration lottery programs.


  • Edwards and Ureta (2003)[1] examine the effect of overseas remittances on schooling retention in El Salvador. Their analysis relies on a cross-section of the 1997 Annual Household Survey. They find that households' remittances receipts significantly decrease the likelihood of children leaving school. This effect is considerably larger than that of domestic household income as such, especially in urban areas.
  • Antman (2006)[2] investigates gender bias in resource allocation among children left behind in Mexico. The author uses panel data from the Mexican Family Life Survey covering the period 2002 to 2005. She finds that when predominantly male households heads are abroad in the USA, the share of resources spent on girls increases relative to boys. This pattern is reversed again once the household head returns.
  • Antman (2011)[3] explores the short-term impact of father's migration to the USA on children's schooling and work outcomes in Mexico. The data used comes from Mexico's Encuesta Nacional de Empleo Urbano and the national urban labor force survey collected by Mexico's national statistical agency, covering the years 1990–2001. The results provide evidence that in the short-run, children study less and work more in response to the departure of the father. Results from a heterogeneity analysis suggests that this effect is concentrated mong 12–15 year-old boys. These findings are consistent with households' financial hardship coinciding with the emigration of the father, which seems to be forcing adolescent boys to increase income earning activities.
  • McKenzie and Rapoport (2011)[4] study the impact of migration on educational attainment among children left behind in rural Mexico. The authors use cross-sectional data from the Encuesta Nacional de la Dinámica Demográfica (National Survey of Demographic Dynamics), covering the last quarter of 1997. They find evidence of a significant negative effect of migration on schooling attendance and attainment. Affected children have a lower likelihood of completing high school. The decrease in schooling among 16- to 18-year-olds coincides with own migration of boys and increased housework for girls.
  • Alcaraz et al. (2012)[5] study the effects of remittances from the USA on child labor and school attendance among Mexican families left-behind. Their analysis relies on panel data from the Mexican National Occupation and Employment Survey for 2008 and 2009 (Encuesta Nacional de Ocupación y Empleo) conducted. They find that the negative shock on remittance receipts during the Great Recession of 2008-2009 caused a significant increase in child labor and a reduction of school.
  • Cortes (2015)[6] investigates the effects of mother migration on educational attainment of children left behind. The analysis relies mainly on panel data from the Philippines Census (1990-2007) and the Survey of Overseas Filipinos (1993-2000). She finds evidence that children left-behind by their mother are more likely to lag behind in school compared to children with migrant fathers, suggesting that the absence of the mother is more detrimental than that of the father in the case of Mexico.
  • de Brauw and Giles (2017)[7] investigate how increased domestic migration opportunities affect high school attendance in rural China. The analysis relies on household and village level panel data from the rural provinces of China covering the period 2003-2004. The results provide evidence of a negative relationship between migration prospects to the urban areas and high school enrollment in rural China. The findings suggest that high-school attendance is traded-off against local and migrant non-agricultural employment among high school aged young adults.
  • Marchetta and Sim (2021)[8] investigate the effect of parental (domestic and international) migration on school attainment of chidren left behind. The authors use household panel data from a sample of rural Cambodian villages, covering the years 2014-2017. Their findings show that children left-behind by one or both parents lag behind in terms of years of completed schooling, compared to non-migrant families. The authors present evidence that suggests that the negative effect is driven by a decrease in parental input in children’s education and not due to child labor.


  • Hildebrandt and McKenzie (2005)[9] study the effect of international migration on health outcomes among children left-behind in in rural Mexico. Similar to McKenzie and Rapoport (2011), the analysis relies on cross-sectional data from the Encuesta Nacional de Dinámica Demográfica (National Survey of Demographic Dynamics) covering the last quarter of 1997. The results provide evidence of that children-left behind have lower rates of infant mortality and higher birth weights. The author also study the mechanisms behind these effects and provide evidence that migration coincides with increases in parents' health knowledge on top of the direct positive effect on wealth.
  • Macours and Vakis (2007)[10] investigate the impact of seasonal migration across countries of Central America on early childhood development in Nicaragua. Their analysis relies on data cross-sectional data from an exclusive survey of 4000 households in six Nicaraguan municipalities close to the border with Honduras. Their findings suggest that mother’s migration has a positive effect on early cognitive development of children left-behind. The authors attribute this positive effect to general income and female empowerment gains which overcompensate potential negative effects from temporary lack of mother's parenting.
  • Stillman et al. (2012)[11] investigate the effect of migration on child health using experimental variation from the Tonga-New Zealand immigration lottery program. They compare children of immigrants who enter New Zealand by winning the lottery to those of unsuccessful participants remaining in Tonga. The results show that immigration leads to positive gains in the stature of infants and toddlers, but also increases BMI and obesity among children. The authors provide further evidence that suggests that changes in dietary patterns rather than income gains explain these effects.


  • Bertoli and Murard (2020)[12] investigate descriptively the association between international migration and co-residence choices in households left-behind in Mexico. The panel data for this analysis comes from the quarterly Mexican National Occupation and Employment Survey (Encuesta Nacional de Ocupación y Empleo) and covers the years 2005 and 2006. Their results show that migrant households exhibit a higher probability of receiving a new member within one year of their migrant's departure. Additional evidence also suggests that attrition is significantly higher among families left-behind due to the eventual dissolution of the original homestead and remaining members joining another household. These findings have methodological implications for survey-based measurement of migration flows, for the analysis of selection into migration, and for the effects of migration on the individuals left behind.

Insurance and Risk Sharing

  • De La Brière et al. (2002)[13] study whether and under which conditions remittances provide insurance to families left-behind in the rural areas of the Dominican Republic. The analysis relies on exclusive cross-sectional data from a sample of 400 farm households in the Dominican Sierra. The findings provide evidence of that the insurance function of remittances is mainly fulfilled by female migrants to the US. Male migrants only provide insurance when being the sole migrant in his household.
  • Yang and Choi (2007)[14] study how remittances receipts from international migrants react to income shocks experienced by Philippine households. The empirical analysis relies on a combination of different household surveys from the Labor Force Survey, the Survey on Overseas Filipinos, the Family Income and Expenditure Survey, and the Annual Poverty Indicators Survey. Consistent with the idea of an insurance arrangement between the migrant and its family left-behind, the results show that income shocks at origin lead to changes in remittances receipts of the opposite sign. Additional evidence suggests that income shocks seem to be fully insured in migrant households, whereas remittance receipts in households without overseas migrants remain unaffected.
  • Groeger and Zylberberg (2016)[15] analyze how domestic labor migration facilitates flood shock coping in rural Vietnam. The empirical analysis combines remotes sensing flood data with household panel data from the Thailand-Vietnam Socioeconomic Panel. The findings show that, in the short-run, households cope mainly through rural-to-urban labor migration when affected by strong agricultural shocks. Households with existing migrant networks ex ante receive more remittances in response to the shock and nonmigrant households react by sending new members away who start remitting similar amounts than established migrants quickly. Additional results suggest that this insurance mechanism is most effective with long-distance domestic labor migration, while local insurance networks break down.

Labor Supply and Income

  • Amuedo-Dorantes and Pozo (2006)[16] investigate the effect of international remittances on employment decisions among families left-behind in Mexico. The analysis relies on cross-sectional data from the National Household Income and Expenditure Survey (Encuesta Nacional de Ingresos y Gastos de los Hogares) in 2002. The results suggest no effect of remittances on the extensive margin of labor supply among Mexican men, but seem to cause changes in the allocation across different types of employment. In contrast, women seem to reduce labor supply in the informal sector and in non-paid work in rural areas.
  • Brauw and Harigaya (2007)[17] study whether seasonal migration in Vietnam leads to improvements in household expenditure. The authors use panel data from the Vietnam Living Standards Survey, covering the years 1992-93 and 1997-98. Their results suggest that seasonal migration leads to significant increases in annual expenditure as well as decreases in the household poverty headcount.
  • Lokshin and Glinskayai (2008)[18] investigate the impact of male labor migration on employment decisions of females left-behind in Nepal. The analysis relies on cross-sectional data from the 2004 Nepal household survey. The findings suggest that male migration has a negative impact on labor supply of women.
  • Binzel and Assaad (2011)[19] study the effect of male migration on employment decisions of women left-behind. Their analysis relies on cross‐sectional data from the Egypt Labor Market Panel Survey of 2006. They find evidence of a negative effect on female wage work with women living in rural areas having a higher likelihood of being employed in unpaid family and subsistence work. Additional evidence suggests that this labor supply response is driven by the need to replace migrant labor rather than by relaxing financial constraints on family enterprises facilitated through remittances.
  • Mu and de Walle (2011)[20] analyze the effect of male migration on work and time allocation of women spouses left-behind in rural China. The panel data used comes from the China Health and Nutrition Survey and covers the period 1989 to 2006. The authors find that women left-behind are doing more farm work, compared to non-migrant households, and that no such effects exist for male spouses. Additional evidence suggests that this effect is persistent and not just a temporary re-allocation.
  • Mendola and Carletto (2012)[21] study the impact of international migration on labor supply of family members left-behind in Albania. The analysis is based on a cross-section of the 2005 Albania Living Standards Measurement Study. The results show that labor supply of men and women responds differently and, in particular, that women left-behind decrease paid labor supply while increasing unpaid work. This effect does not exist for men. Additionally, women in returnee households are significantly more likely to be self-employed and less likely to supply unpaid work.

Multiple Outcomes

  • Yang (2008)[22] studies the effect of positive income shocks on a range economic outcomes of families left-behind in the Philippines. The results show that positive migrant shocks lead to increases in human capital accumulation and entrepreneurship in origin households. Simultaneously, child schooling and educational expenditure improve, while child labor decreased. Members left-behind also increase self-employment in response to the shock, and become more likely to start relatively capital-intensive household businesses.
  • Gibson et al. (2011)[23] investigate the effect of migration from Tonga to New Zealand on a range of outcomes using data from a migration lottery. Their analysis relies on data from the Pacific Island—New Zealand Migration Study and compare outcomes for the remaining household members of Tongan emigrants with those of members of similar households who were unsuccessful in the lottery. The results show that the overall impact on households left behind is largely negative in terms of resource availability, and both sources of selectivity (household and within household individual self-selection) matter, leading studies that fail to address them adequately to misrepresent the impact of migration on households.
  • Gibson et al. (2015)[24] study the long-term effects of international migration, using the same context and approach as Gibson et al. (2011). After ten years, the effect of migration to New Zealand is similar in magnitude to the gain in the first year despite migrants upgrading their education and changing their locations and occupations. This results in large sustained benefits to the family who migrated with them to New Zealand, with substantially higher consumption, durable asset ownership, savings, and dietary diversity. However, the results show no impact on the extended family left-behind in Tonga.
  • Groeger (2021)[25] investigates the impact of negative income shocks on the domestic and international labor migration decisions of families members left behind in Vietnam. The analysis draws on panel data from a survey of international migrant households. The results show that poor migrant households reduce domestic and increase international labor migration, whereas rich migrant households remain largely unaffected. These effects can be rationalized by the relative magnitudes of income and substitution effects. Additional evidence suggests that new international migrants were predominantly female and went to the same destination as established ones from the same household. These changes also led to an increase in intimate partner cohabitation and fertility among poor families left-behind.

Literature Reviews

List of references

  1. Edwards, Alejandra Cox, and Manuelita Ureta. "International migration, remittances, and schooling: evidence from El Salvador." 'Journal of Development Economics' 72, no. 2 (2003): 429-461. Link
  2. Antman, Francisca M. "International migration and gender discrimination among children left behind" 'American Economic Review, P&P' 101, no. 3 (2006): 645-649. Link
  3. Antman, Francisca M. "The intergenerational effects of paternal migration on schooling and work: What can we learn from children's time allocations?" 'Journal of Development Economics' 96, no. 2 (2011): 200-208. Link
  4. McKenzie, David and Hillel Rapoport. "Can migration reduce educational attainment? Evidence from Mexico" 'Journal of Population Economics' 24, October (2011): 1331–1358. Link
  5. Alcaraz, Carlo, Daniel Chiquiar and Alejandrina Salcedo. "Remittances, schooling, and child labor in Mexico" 'Journal of Development Economics' 97, no. 1 (2012): 156-165. Link
  6. Cortes, Patricia. "The Feminization of International Migration and its Effects on the Children Left Behind: Evidence from the Philippines." 'World Development' 65, January (2015): 62-78. Link
  7. de Brauw, Alan and John Giles. "Migrant Opportunity and the Educational Attainment of Youth in Rural China." 'Journal of Human Resources' 52, no. 1 (2017): 272-311. Link
  8. Marchetta, Francesca and Sokcheng Sim. "The effect of parental migration on the schooling of children left behind in rural Cambodia." 'World Development' 146, 105593 (2021). Link
  9. Hildebrandt, Nicole and David J McKenzie. "The Effects of Migration on Child Health in Mexico." 'Economía' 6, no. 1 (2005): 257-289. Link
  10. Macours, Karen and Renos Vakis. "Seasonal Migration and Early Childhood Development." 'World Development' 38, no. 6 (2010): 857-869. Link
  11. Stillman, Steven, John Gibson, and David McKenzie. "The Impact of Immigration on Child Health: Experimental Evidence from a Migration Lottery Program." 'Economic Inquiry' 50, no. 1 (2012): 62-81. Link
  12. Bertoli, Simone and Elie Murard. "Migration and co-residence choices: Evidence from Mexico." 'Journal of Development Economics' 142, 102330 (2020). Link
  13. de la Brière, Bénédicte, Elisabeth Sadoulet, Alain de Janvry, and Sylvie Lambert. "The roles of destination, gender, and household composition in explaining remittances: an analysis for the Dominican Sierra." 'Journal of Development Economics' 68, no. 2 (2002). Link
  14. Yang, Dean and HwaJung Choi. "Are Remittances Insurance? Evidence from Rainfall Shocks in the Philippines." 'The World Bank Economic Review' 21, no. 2 (2007). Link
  15. Andre Groeger and Yanos Zylberberg. "Internal Labor Migration as a Shock Coping Strategy: Evidence from a Typhoon." 'American Economic Journal: Applied Economics' 8, no. 2 (2016). Link
  16. Amuedo-Dorantes, Catalina and Susan Pozo. "Migration, Remittances, and Male and Female Employment Patterns." 'American Economic Review P&P' 96, no. 2 (2006):222-226. Link
  17. de Brauw, Alan and Tomoko Harigaya. "Seasonal migration and improving living standards in Vietnam seasonal migration and improving living standards in Vietnam." 'American Journal of Agricultural Economics' 89, no. 2 (2007): 430-447. Link
  18. Lokshin, Michael and Elena Glinskay. "The Effect of Male Migration on Employment Patterns of Women in Nepal." 'The World Bank Economic Review' 23, no. 3 (2009): 481-507. Link
  19. Binzel, Christine and Ragui Assaad. "Egyptian men working abroad: Labour supply responses by the women left behind." 'Labour Economics' 18, suppl. 1 (2011): S98-S114. Link
  20. Mu, Ren and Dominique van de Walle. "Left behind to farm? Women's labor re-allocation in rural China." 'Labour Economics' 18, suppl. 1 (2011): S83-S97. Link
  21. Mendola, Mariapia and Calogero Carletto. "Migration and gender differences in the home labour market: Evidence from Albania." 'Labour Economics' 19, no. 6 (2012): 870-880. Link
  22. Dean Yang. "International Migration, Remittances and Household Investment: Evidence from Philippine Migrants’ Exchange Rate Shocks." 'The Economic Journal' 118, no. 528 (2008): 591–630. Link
  23. Gibson, John, David McKenzie, and Steven Stillman. "The Impacts of International Migration on Remaining Household Members: Omnibus Results from a Migration Lottery Program." 'The Review of Economics and Statistics' 93, no. 4 (2011): 1297–1318. Link
  24. Gibson, John, David McKenzie, Halahingano Rohorua, and Steven Stillman. "The Long-term Impacts of International Migration: Evidence from a Lottery." 'The World Bank Economic Review' 32, no. 1 (2018): 1297–1318. Link
  25. Andre Groeger. "Easy Come, Easy Go? Economic Shocks, Labor Migration and the Family Left Behind." 'Journal of International Economics' 128, 103409 (2021). Link
  26. Antman, Francisca M. "The impact of migration on family left behind." in 'International Handbook on the Economics of Migration' Ch. 16, (2012): 293-308. Link