Women in the immigrant population

Women now constitute the majority of immigrants to France

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The immigrant population of metropolitan France -that is, persons born non-French outside France-has been predominantly female for the last few years. Census records tell us that the proportion of women has always been substantial, though it has also fluctuated: in 1931, when that proportion was at its lowest, women already represented 40% of the immigrant population. In the early twentieth century women pulled close to men (47% in 1911), outnumbering them at the turn of the twenty-first century (51% in 2008).

 

Degree of feminization varies by origin

In 2008, the proportion of women in the immigrant population varied sharply by origin (Figure). The number of men exceeded that of women only for Turkey (46% women), Morocco and Tunisia (48% women). For all other immigrant groups women were in the majority, in some cases a considerable one: 65% of immigrants from European Union countries (with the exception of Spain, Italy and Portugal) were women.

The historical role of family reunification

Immigrant population feminization is often attributed to family reunification. Historically, persons immigrating to find work were initially men, later joined by their female partners and possibly their children. For example, in the early 1970s almost three-quarters of new immigrants from North Africa were men. But with the economic crisis, labor immigration was interrupted (1974) and immigration from this area/overall soon became feminized: from 1975 to 1983, women represented 61% of new arrivals. The situation then gradually returned to balance (from 1998 to 2008, 48% of immigrants were women).

The rise of “independent” female migration

Family reunification is not the only explanation, as women immigrants are not mere "followers." INED’s Trajectories and Origins survey shows that migrations characterized by a particularly high proportion of women include a high number of women departing "independently" and, to a lesser degree, leaving ahead of their male partner (Figure). Women constitute the majority of immigrants from Central Africa and the Gulf of Guinea (Ivory Coast, Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, etc.): 57% of the persons who arrived from these countries in 2008 were women. In contrast, migration by Turks, the least feminized group, also shows the lowest proportion of women entering France "independently." In reality, France has been the locus of a spectacular convergence of male and female migration profiles over the last decades. Newly arriving single persons are increasingly women, whereas persons arriving by the reunification process are increasingly men.