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Intra -family transfers and the household division of labor: A case study of migration and remittance behavior in South Africa

Dorrit Ruth Posel, University of Massachusetts Amherst


In this study I use migration as an analytical and empirical window to explore questions of intra-household decision-making, labor allocations and resource transfers. I critically evaluate the unitary household model and I develop alternative ways of conceptualizing the household and non-market exchanges in the migration process. Most studies assume that migrants are men because this allocation is consistent with the maximizing strategies of a household that acts collectively. In chapter 1, I present a model of the household that explains migration decisions when men control decision-making and resources in the household, but they use this control to maximize their own access to income. The patriarchal model also predicts gender differences in migration, but it shows further that if, as is common, men gain more through migrating than through remaining in the rural household, they will “over-migrate” relative to their comparative advantage over women in urban employment. Like most intra-family transfers, remittances cannot be directly contracted for by household members. Unlike most intra-family transfers, however, remittance data are often captured in national surveys. In chapter 2, I use this unique data opportunity to probe the reasons why household members share resources with each other. I show that remittance behavior is consistent not only with altruism but also with more self-regarding motivations, and that migrants remit not to “households” but to individuals in households. In chapter 3, I illustrate how placing migration in the context of a theory of intra-family transfers helps reconcile a debate in the empirical literature over the development implications of migration. By modeling the interaction between migrants who send remittances and recipients that spend remittances, I identify when migration will be associated with two stable outcomes: a higher-level equilibrium of higher remittances and more investment out of remittances, and a lower-level equilibrium of lower remittances that are consumed. In chapters 1 and 2, the predictions of the patriarchal model of labor allocation and the motivations for remittance behavior, are tested using migration data from South Africa. Chapter 3 offers a theoretical analysis that draws from a wide range of studies on migration in developing countries, including South Africa.

Subject Area

Economics|Families & family life|Personal relationships|Sociology|Home economics

Recommended Citation

Posel, Dorrit Ruth, "Intra -family transfers and the household division of labor: A case study of migration and remittance behavior in South Africa" (1999). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9950203.