Migration has a positive impact on girls' education, healthcare and fertility rates in countries that export labour, according to a study by the World Bank published yesterday in Cairo.
"In a lot of countries, [such as] Pakistan, boys are favoured over girls, so they get a larger share of household resources," said Maurice Schiff, the lead economist and co-editor of the report. "When additional income comes to the family through remittances sent by a migrant abroad, more tends to go to girls."
The World Bank study found that, in Pakistan, the effect of having a migrant worker in the family was to increase female enrolment in schools by as much as 54 per cent, compared with just 7 per cent for boys.
Other results showed that girls from migrant households stayed in school on average two years longer than those from non-migrant families. There was also an impact on child labour because children who had a father earning money abroad were less likely to be sent out to work and those who were, worked about 66 per cent less.
It also found that migration improved the height and weight of the children of Pakistani and central American migrants.
More money also meant better access to healthcare. In Nicaragua, remittances significantly improved the likelihood of doctor-assisted births, a big factor in reducing maternal mortality.
Another finding was that fertility rates have declined in those parts of Morocco and Turkey that export labour to Europe. It attributed this to "the transmission of ideas and modes of behaviour from host to source country".
The report also found that returned migrants could command higher wages in their home countries. Egyptians who had worked abroad earned up to 38 per cent more than those who had not travelled.
The benefits, says Mr Schiff, are not confined to labour exporting countries.
"There are studies which show that if you increase the labour force of OECD countries by 3 per cent, or 15m people, with the same distribution across occupations, the benefits would be larger than if all the countries of the world liberalised their trade," he said.
Mr Schiff says these benefits should provide a strong argument for countries that receive labour to adopt systems for temporary migration in which, for instance, a proportion of a worker's salary is paid in the home country and is only available after the worker's final return. Such a system, he said, would maintain the benefits of remittances to poor countries, cut the brain drain from the developing world and let host countries control the size of their population.