When wealthier countries, or simply those countries with increased employment options, pull folks away from their home country in search of said opportunities, the folks who are migrating are almost always men. Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean and South America are littered with small rural towns where men over 18 represent under 20% of the total population. Remittances, money transfers sent from the folks who leave back home to the families they’ve left behind, are in fact not overwhelmingly sent by those men that leave. Close to 80% come from sons, not husbands. Countless women and their children left behind tell the tale of husbands never returning, never re-establishing contact, presumably starting over and forming new families in their 2nd, now permanent, home.
However, now, after enough time has passed and researchers can step in and use time series data over 20 and 30 year periods when migration was a heavy part of the Mexican rural reality, data is arriving showing all was not lost in these tiny rural outposts bereft of male participation and guidance. In fact, female household heads have stepped up, reinvented themselves accordingly and are in some cases doing much better than before their husbands left. According to census data, women are now the principal earners in 1.19 million of Mexico’s estimated 6.2 million rural households. This is a whopping 30% higher than a decade ago. moreover, over 50% of the folks who participate in all of the Agriculture Ministry’s farmer programs are now women, up from roughly 30% just 4 years ago.
When the guys do return many are forced into domestic duties as their skills and connections have been lost. Ask any woman in a rural town if they’d prefer their husband leave the country to work and I doubt the response rate would be overwhelmingly positive, but when push comes to shove, like microcredit initiatives have known for years, women tend to prove more responsible and better equipped to adeptly manage household income flows than they were ever given credit for.