Sociology Gender, Sexuality, and Migration
Rhacel Salazar Parreñas, Carolyn Choi, Maria Hwang
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 June 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 June 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756384-0225


Women have always migrated. Yet, earlier gender and migration debates on the “feminization of migration” have largely downplayed this reality, implying that women have only recently begun to migrate. To the contrary, as early as 1984 Mirjana Morokvasic reminded us, in an article titled “Birds of Passage Are Also Women,” that female migrants began outnumbering male migrants entering the United States as early as the 1930s (Morokvasic 1984, cited under Overview). As Martha Gardner’s exhaustive historical analysis of immigration regulations illustrates—Gardner 2006, cited under Gender and the State—the United States had historically curtailed the migration of independent women, thus limiting women’s migration as dependents who followed male family members. Since then, women migrants have crossed international borders and entered the United States and other advanced capitalist societies as independent migrants, responding primarily to the demand for their labor as nurses, domestic workers, factory workers, and sex workers. Pioneering feminist migration scholars in the 1980s first questioned the invisibility of women in mainstream knowledge production of migration. While they initially called just for the inclusion of women, since the 1990s scholars have demanded the incorporation of a gendered perspective in mainstream migration research, urging an examination of the various ways gender constitutes migration. Contemporary scholarship on gender and migration has focused on the constitution of gender in the macro context by analyzing the ways gender informs the political economy of migration. Focusing on the meso level, a larger group of scholars has interrogated how migration reshapes gender relations and accordingly the position of men and women in institutions such as the migrant family. Finally, others have examined the micropolitics of gender by examining the subjectivities of migrant women, particularly as mothers or cosmopolitan adventurers. Since the 1980s, we have also witnessed growing recognition of the global scope of women’s migration and the decentering of the United States and the West in contemporary empirical investigations of migrants’ gendered experiences. These works highlight how women migrate as workers, wives, and students to not only North America or Europe but also to Latin America and Asia. Migrant women also originate from disparate countries and regions, with larger groups coming from Mexico and Central America, Southeast Asia, in particular, Indonesia and the Philippines, and eastern Europe. However, gender and migration scholarship’s focus on women’s experiences has been criticized for privileging heteronormative assumptions about gender and for neglecting to incorporate the perspectives of men and sexual minorities. Masculinity studies have attempted to address such gaps in existing gender and migration scholarship by challenging the primacy of Western hegemonic masculinity. Likewise, the literature on sexuality and migration has challenged heteronormative assumptions underpinning migration theories and conceptualizations, insisting that sexuality is central to the regulation of migration and migrant experiences. This annotated bibliography provides an overview of the study of gender, sexuality, and migration. It begins with studies that provide a big picture of the study of gender and migration. It then proceeds to highlight how gender shapes institutions of migration (the state, family) followed by case studies of different groups of migrant women (students, brides, sex workers, domestic workers). Finally, it addresses thematic issues central to our understanding of gender and migration (trafficking, sexuality, masculinity). The dominance of US-centered studies in gender and migration research is reflected in this bibliography.


Research on migration historically marginalized the experiences of women: firstly, by treating women as nothing more than secondary migrants vis-à-vis men, secondly, by ignoring gender as a category that shapes the experiences of migration, and finally, by using men’s experiences as the norm for understanding migrant experiences. This overview includes works which advance the importance of including the experiences of women and foregrounding the category of gender in analyses of migration. Illustrating women’s marginalization in migration studies, it was not until 1984 that the leading migration studies journal, International Migration Review, dedicated a special issue on the experiences of women. Morokvasic 1984 provides an important demographic picture on women, establishing how women have outnumbered male migrants entering the United States since the 1930s. Donato and Gabbacia 2015 presents a broad picture of women’s migration patterns and flows, establishing that women have always constituted at least half of all migrants across the globe. What are mainstream theorizations of women’s migration? Included in this overview are three studies which address this question. Hondagneu-Sotelo 2003 is a collection on gender and US immigration edited by a leading scholar. This collection advances a comparative gender approach to the study of “gender and migration” and makes the case that scholars need to compare men and women so as not to relegate gender to being only relevant to women’s experiences. Second, we include the book Parreñas 2007 as it provides an alternative perspective, advancing a radical feminist approach that foregrounds the ways gender inequalities are determined and reified in the experiences of migrant women. The author’s analysis of gender inequalities provides a multi-scalar approach in illustrating how gender inequalities operate on the macro, meso, and micro-level. Finally, Koffman and Raghuram 2015 establishes the need to consider the ways ideologies impact migration experiences in order to fully understand how gender shapes migration. The authors use the lens of social reproduction to illustrate how ideologies are a key analytic framework in the study of women, gender, and migration.

  • Donato, Katherine, and Donna Gabbacia. 2015. Gender and international migration. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

    Donato and Gabbacia provide a sweeping historical and demographic overview of the cross-border movements of women across four centuries. The authors challenge the term “feminization of migration” by establishing the long history of women’s migration beyond the contemporary sociological moment. Offering a strong reference guide to the demographics of men and women’s migration, they establish the shifting gender composition of migration across time and geography.

  • Hondagneu-Sotelo, Pierrette, ed. 2003. Gender and U.S. immigration: Contemporary trends. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

    This edited anthology features established and emerging scholars of US migration studies. Chapters examine a wide array of migrant groups, including Dominicans, Filipinos, Mexicans, and Salvadorans. Reflecting dominant discourses on gendered migration research, some of the central questions in the book are about how gender transforms in the process of migration and whether women perceive migration as a gender-liberating experience.

  • Koffman, Eleanore, and Parvati Raghuram. 2015. Gendered migrations and global social reproduction. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.

    DOI: 10.1057/9781137510143

    The authors analyze how “social reproduction” as opposed to the “feminization of migration” offers a key lens to understanding women’s contemporary global migration. This study provides a global overview which illustrates variant patterns of women’s migration, examines how a crisis in social reproduction propels women’s migration, and theorizes how capital shapes experiences of migration.

  • Morokvasic, Mirjana. 1984. Birds of passage are also women . . . . International Migration Review 18.4: 886–907.

    This highly cited article paved the way for the singular study of women migrants by establishing the high rate of their cross-border movements, particularly into the United States. Examining the 20th-century migration of women, it shows how they entered both as wives and workers. This article appeared in the pioneering volume devoted to the study of women’s migration in the leading migration journal International Migration Review.

  • Parreñas, Rhacel Salazar. 2007. The force of domesticity: Filipina migrants and globalization. New York: New York Univ. Press.

    This collection draws from the author’s various research projects including her study on Filipino domestic workers in Italy and the United States; transnational families in the Philippines; and Filipino sex workers in Japan to offer a multi-scalar examination of how gender is constituted in the experiences of migrant women. It challenges the US-centric focus of gender and migration research by showing how the reinforcement of the ideology of female domesticity limits the reconstitution of gender in international migration.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.