Publication: SSM-Population Health
The consequences for women “left behind” by virtue of temporary male migration are known to be mixed. On one hand, concomitant changes in fertility, female labor force participation, and social norms are often associated with increased independence for women. On the other hand, women left behind can be vulnerable to increased dependency on members of their husbands’ family, or face limited access to social institutions. These shifts in women’s capacity for decision-making can have important implications for their health and well-being. Focusing on the state of Kerala in southern India, we examine the conditions under which the remittances that migrants send home have an impact on the health of women left behind. Specifically, we assess the extent to which the timing of remittance sending can support women’s autonomy, and hence improve their autonomous healthcare decision-making and mobility to health facilities. We use evidence from migrant households in Kerala, a region deeply engrained in the world labor migration system for over five decades. Analysis is conducted with representative household survey data from the 2016 wave of the Kerala Migration Study (KMS), and paired with in-depth qualitative interviews with women in Kerala whose husbands and other family members have migrated to the Gulf. We show that the positive effect of remittances on women’s autonomy manifests primarily through the timing of remittance receipt, not the amount of money remitted. Those who receive regular remittances experience more gains in autonomy, as compared to those receiving remittances at irregular intervals, net of amount remitted. This finding challenges the usual emphasis on remittance volume as the driving factor of social and behavioral change in sending communities. Analytical efforts should be refocused on the social-interactional component of remittance sending, and how these interactions can impact women’s health and autonomy.