Originally posted May 2010

Migration is a longstanding phenomenon in Tunisia.[1] Out of a population of ten million, an average of 30,000 Tunisians - primarily young people - emigrate each year. The main reasons for their departure are the low standard of living, unemployment, and the lack of job opportunities. Although traditionally migration had been an exclusively male phenomenon, in recent years female emigration has become increasingly important. Nevertheless, there are quantitative and qualitative differences between male and female emigrants.

The results of the Youth Survey in Tunisia (1996, 2000, and 2005) show that both sexes intend to leave the country and live elsewhere.[2] In addition, the results of 2005 show that no significant differences between the two sexes in terms of international migration intentions. However, the statistics on international migration show that the level of migration of young women is very low, not only compared to male migration but also to the level of their desire to migrate. In addition, although women are more likely to leave than their male counterparts, their participation in economic migration remains relatively limited. Female migration takes place largely to effect family reunion and marriage, while male migration occurs mainly to secure employment or to improve living conditions.

For years, the migration literature considered migration as a male phenomenon. Only since the 1980s has female migration started to attract researchers to the field of migration.[3] The recognition of women’s migration has highlighted the effect of non-economic factors on the decision to migrate and on the reasons for migration.[4] According to some authors - beyond the social, economic, and institutional situation in the origin place (e.g., job opportunities, inequality in the labor market, etc.) - gender relations are an important factor in explaining the decision to migrate as well as the main reason for migration. Gender relations are defined as a set of social representations, roles, perceptions, ideologies, and behaviors of women and men.[5] They determine the roles of women and men, as well as the opportunities and the constraints specific to each sex which can influence their migration behaviors.[6] Therefore, gender relations determine who migrates and for which reason s/he does so.

The objective of this research is to show the role of gender relations among young Tunisian emigrants (i.e. women and men between the ages of 18 and 35). Using data from the National Labor Force Survey (2005-2006), we try to study in particular the influence of gender relations on the decision to leave as well as on the main migration reasons. The main hypothesis is that gender relations determine the decision to migrate. Women and men may have the same desire to migrate, but this does not mean that they have the same probability to migrate. Indeed, migration of both sexes is still influenced by the traditional social model. According to this model, men are more likely to migrate, and they do so principally for economic reasons. However, female emigrants are valued only within a socially accepted context.

Reasons for Migration: Differences Between Women and Men

The statistics on migration of the National Labor Force Survey (2005-2006) have disclosed a large gap between females and males in Tunisia. These differences illustrate the important influence that gender relations have on the migratory behavior of men and women. Male migration is much higher than that of women. (The number of male emigrants between 2005 and 2006 is three times that of women.) Thus, although female migration for economic reasons is considerable (31%), it is usually dependent on the family. Nearly half of women have migrated to marry or to join the family. However, male migration is driven mainly by the desire for employment. These differences between women and men show that the reason for migration is mainly related to the roles of the two sexes. The main reason for migration is an indicator of social roles of women and men. According to the traditional division of male and female roles, men migrate to find a job, and women eventually join them to assume their roles as wives.

For both sexes, the majority of migrants are single. Whatever their marital status, males migrate mainly for economic reasons. However, females migrate principally for family reasons - this trend is even more pronounced when they are married. Nevertheless, a significant number of unmarried women migrate for studies and for work. These initial descriptive results reveal that the autonomy of women in migration is not yet effective.

Whether employed or not, the proportion of men who migrate for family reasons is low. The migratory behavior of men is the same independent of their status, except of course in the case of students, who migrate mainly to continue their studies. Migration for the purpose of studying is relatively high among unemployed persons - 60%. Thus, we should mention the importance of the migration of unemployed persons (26% of male migrants are unemployed before migration). However, female migrants are mainly inactive (48%) and occupied (38%). Unemployed women constitute just 14%, and they migrate mainly for economic reasons (63%). In contrast, employed and inactive women migrate principally for family reasons. Thus, it seems that having a pre-migration activity does not have a major effect on females’ reasons to migrate. Except for unemployed women, female migration for economic reasons is not significant, compared to men.

It also seems that education does not have a major effect on the probability to migrate and on males’ reasons for migrating. In fact, only 14% of male migrants are highly educated - migration for economic reasons is important regardless of educational level. However, for women, highly educated migrants constitute 34% and are more likely to migrate for non-family-related reasons. Migration for family reasons remains important even for those women who are highly educated. Nevertheless, highly educated persons are more likely to migrate for studies.

The Probability to Migrate:

To study the effect of gender relations on the probability to migrate we develop logistic regressions for both sexes (model 1), for women (model 2) and for men (model 3).

Logistic Regressions of the Probability to Migrate (Odd ratio)

The sex variable is highly significant. The results show that men are more likely than women to migrate. In addition, for both sexes, the variable of marital status is significant and confirms that, for women and men, the probability to migrate is higher among non-married persons. For men, the activity before migration has an effect on the probability to migrate. In fact, the variable is significant, and the results show that the probability to migrate is relatively higher for unemployed men. In contrast, for women, the activity before migration is not significant. However, the high educational level is significant for women but not for men. The results demonstrate that education has an important effect on the probability to migrate. Highly educated women are more likely to migrate than men.


The analysis shows that the migration of women and men is influenced by the tradition and the social values that determine the roles of women and men. These social stereotypes influence the migratory behavior of both sexes and determine their reasons for migrating. The migration of women and men is impregnated by their responsibilities and social roles. According to their reproductive role, women migrate for family reasons, while men migrate mainly to work, as they are responsible for their families. Women - especially those who are married - migrate mainly to join their families or their husbands. In addition, migration for economic reasons, as well as for studies, concerns mainly the unmarried.

We must also highlight the effect of marital status on the probability to migrate. Indeed, the results show that single women are more likely to emigrate. Furthermore, regardless of their qualifications, women, especially those who are married, emphasize their reproductive role. For this reason, married women, even if they are highly educated and employed, migrate mainly for family reasons. These results showed that the choice of the migration reason is influenced by the socio-economical and familial context in which the decision of migration is developed.

Traditional values have played an important role in the decision of migration of women and men in Tunisia. The probability of migration and the reasons for migration of both sexes are controlled by their social roles and the traditional and cultural norms defined by their society of origin.


[1]1. Habib Fourati, Consultation de la jeunesse et désir d’émigration chez les jeunes en Tunisie 1996-2005, CARIM Analytic and Synthetic Notes, No. 47, 2008, http://cadmus.eui.eu/dspace/bitstream/1814/10091/1/CARIM_AS%26N_2008_47….


[2]2. Habib Fourati, Consultation de la jeunesse et désir d’émigration chez les jeunes en Tunisie 1996-2005. 


[3]3. Hania Zlotnik, Théories sur les migrations internationales, in Graziella Cazalli, Jacques Vallin, and Guillaume Wunsch, eds., Démographie: analyses et synthèse. Les déterminants de la migration (Paris: Éditions de L’Institut National D’Études Démographiques, 2003), pp. 55-78.


[4]4. Thomas J. Cooke “Family Migration and Relative Earning of Husbands and Wives,” Annals of the Association for American Geographers, Vol. 3, No. 3 (2003), pp. 278-94.


[5]5. Jacques Veron, Le monde des femmes: Inégalités des sexes, inégalités des sociétés (Paris : Éditions du Seuil, 1997).


[6]6. Annie Bidet-Mordrel and Jacques Bidet, Les rapports de sexe comme rapports sociaux, Actuel Marx, No. 30 (2001), pp. 13-42.