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Cornell University

Tata-Cornell Institute for Agriculture and Nutrition

Essays on the Effects of Migration & Remittances on Households in Rural India


This dissertation focuses on the effects of migration and remittances on the welfare of families left-behind, in the context of farming households in rural India. Labor migration is heavily male dominant in India, and women and children are often left behind. Though internal migration has been substantive in the country for several decades, its true scale has come to prominence in light of the current pandemic. However, available evidence on the effects of migration on the left-behind households is sparse, owing to data limitations. My doctoral work seeks to fill this gap, and I examine the following questions in three separate chapters of this dissertation: (1) effects of male outmigration on changing the roles of women in agriculture, (2) effects of father’s migration on children’s education and labor outcomes, and (3) effects of remittance receipts on children’s health and wellbeing.Male outmigration from India’s rural areas has resulted in women being left-behind to tend to agriculture. These women in migrant households may increase their farm labor to compensate for the labor lost to migration, particularly in traditionally male-oriented farming tasks, but lack the adequate skill, stamina and time needed to undertake the extra work. They may also take over new roles as farm managers, but often face constraints in terms of limited exposure to handling and managing different tasks, and disparate access to inputs and markets. In Chapter 1, I examine how male migration in rural India affects women’s roles in agriculture, in terms of their participation in farm labor and farm decision-making. Using household-level panel data, I use a Difference-in-Difference strategy (DID) to examine migration’s effects on women’s farming roles. To circumvent the self-selection bias associated with migration, I combine DID with Matching techniques. I adopt a kernel-based Propensity Score Matching approach after verifying that it results in the creation of a matched sample that is balanced on the selected observed variables. I find a modest 4 percentage point increase in the share of female family labor on the farm. However, I find a significant 13 percentage point increase in the likelihood of having a female farm manager. This is a novel result, indicating that male migration is a key driver behind women farmers taking up new responsibilities of farm management in addition to providing labor. I find that this change appears to be concentrated among women in geographical regions that have stricter social norms, and among women living in nuclear households and hence lacking support from extended families to perform productive activities as well as domestic chores. I observe that female farm managers have lower access to farm inputs and credit, compared to their male counterparts. Therefore, to examine if migration-induced female farm management affects farm profits, I employ a Causal Mediation analysis (CMA). I decompose the total effects of migration into indirect effects due to female farm management, and direct effects through other channels. I find that having a female farm manager mediates almost 30% of the reduction in profits. This study touches on the linkages underlying migration, women farmers, and gender differentials in farm productivity, and emphasizes the need to collect better data to enable further research on understanding these complex relationships. The results present useful insights for policies aimed at improving farm productivity, to be cognizant of women’s entry into farm management, and to be sensitive to the challenges faced by women farmers and farm-managers. In chapters 2 and 3, I examine the effects of migration and remittances on changes in human capital – particularly on child education, labor and health. Migration affects child education & child labor through several channels. The migrant’s departure could push the children into compensating for the loss of migrant’s labor by engaging in home and/or external work; older children may be tasked with handling household chores and sibling/elder care. These engagements can reduce the time available for children to spend on schooling. On the other hand, remittances could alleviate the households’ financial constraints and stimulate investments in child schooling and reduce child labor. In Chapter 2, I use cross-sectional data and matching techniques to study the effects of father’s migration on the left-behind children’s education and labor in rural India. I find that father’s migration leads to an improvement in enrollment rates, educational expenditure and time spent on studying. The positive effects are stronger among girls and older children (11-16 years), who are at higher risk of dropping out of school and entering labor markets. Focusing on child labor, I find a positive and significant effect in household farm work suggesting labor substitution, and a modest negative effect on external wage/salary work. These results appear to be driven by the receipt of remittances, as well as a shift towards female headship. While paternal migration does increase the labor participation of children in own farm work, the positive income effects from remittances stimulate greater investments in education and increase time spent on studying. In Chapter 3, I examine the relationship between remittances and child health in rural India. Malnutrition is a pervasive problem and a leading cause of under-5 child mortality in India. Remittances can have positive effects on child health by helping ease budget constraints and increasing spending on health inputs, better diets, sanitation facilities, better housing, and so on. Using lagged district-level share of households receiving remittances as an Instrumental Variable to account for the endogeneity of receiving remittances, I find that young children in remittance-receiving households are likely to weigh more relative to children in non-recipient households; remittances also have a positive bearing on reducing diarrhea prevalence, suggesting a reduction in child morbidity and improvement in home-disease environment. These findings emphasize the need for policies on migration to better understand the beneficial role that migration and remittances play in improving the welfare of children left-behind.

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