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1Labour migration, a milestone in the transition to adulthood, is a central experience for rural youth in the countries of West Africa. While in the past young men were the main beneficiaries of this experience and of the independence it may procure, labour migration by young women has also developed in recent decades, with possible consequences for the gender power balance and for inter-generational relations. Drawing upon original data collected from a rural population in Mali, Marie Lesclingand and Véronique Hertrich describe this process of expansion of young women’s migration, mainly to towns and cities, and its effects on the migration behaviour of their male counterparts. The longitudinal survey data is used to reconstitute half a century of migration and to identify the main stages of the phenomenon. Looking beyond purely economic rationales, this new approach brings a new perspective to the study of migration in Africa.

2In many west African populations, labour migration has become an integral part of life for teenagers. Migration is a long-standing practice for young men, and has grown among young women, although its timing varies across communities. Among the Serer and Jola populations in Senegal, it has existed for several decades, and the majority of young girls are concerned (Delaunay, 1994; Delaunay and Enel, 2009; Enel et al., 1994; Lambert, 2007; Linares, 2003). In Burkina Faso, it has developed more slowly (Le Jeune et al., 2005; Ouedraogo, 1995; Piché and Cordell, 2015), while in Mali, labour migration of teenage girls spread gradually across the south-east of the country from the 1980s (Bouju, 2008; Diarra and Kone, 1991; Dougnon, 2009; Kassogue, 2014; Lesclingand, 2004b; Petit, 1998; Sauvain-Dugerdil, 2013). This type of migration is very specific. It concerns young girls who leave home to find work as domestic servants in town, with the aim of buying clothes and cooking utensils (their “trousseau”) before they marry (Delaunay, 1994; Grosz-Ngaté, 2000; Jacquemin, 2011; Lambert, 1999, 2007; Lesclingand, 2004a).

3Now recognized as a social phenomenon, adolescent girls’ labour migration is attracting new scientific interest in response to growing awareness of women’s presence – generally greater than that of men – in migration flows of young sub-Saharan Africans (Montgomery et al., 2016; United Nations, 2013; Temin et al., 2013). Current research focuses on migrant women’s practices and living conditions, mainly by means of cross-sectional and individual-level observation. However, this form of female mobility is rarely examined from a long-term socio-historical perspective, through comparison with the practices of men, and taking account of the context and dynamics of the local environment. There are two main reasons for this. The first is linked to the gender segmentation of approaches to migration. Girls’ migration is generally addressed through the prism of vulnerability and reproductive health risk (Clark and Cotton, 2013; Erulkar et al., 2006; Luke et al., 2012; Magadi, 2013), while for men, economic aspects take precedence. The second reason is methodological. Data on migration are scarce, on young people especially, and past migration trends are difficult to reconstruct based on standard single-round retrospective surveys. The question of migration is barely touched upon in major demographic surveys such as the Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS), whose respondents are all aged 15 and above. Apart from a few national surveys [1] that include detailed migration histories, most data are collected at local level, via demographic surveillance sites such as those in Senegal (Delaunay, 1994; Enel et al., 1994; Pison and Enel, 2005) or Mali (presented in this article), which provide the longitudinal data necessary for a quantitative and historical approach to adolescent girls’ migration.

4The life event history data used in this article were collected over more than two decades in two villages of south-eastern Mali, starting at a time when labour migration mainly concerned boys and young men, and continuing up to recent years, when the majority of labour migrants were adolescent girls. We are thus able to trace the history of girls’ migration over a long period, against a local backdrop of socioeconomic change, and to identify the specific dynamics of the phenomenon for each sex.

5Two questions are addressed. The first concerns the way in which male and female migration are linked: is the growth in girls’ labour migration a delayed corollary of the trends observed among boys and young men? What are the points of similarity or difference? To find an answer, we examine migration profiles, their characteristics (destination, activity, duration, experience gained) and the role of migration in the family economy. The second question concerns the changes observed over time, as new family rationales emerged, but also as the number of migrant girls caught up with that of boys. We posit that as female migration increases, its causes and effects evolve; a practice that becomes universal inevitably shifts the cursor of social acceptance and forces family and social structures to adjust accordingly. In particular, we examine the extent to which the rapid rise in girls’ mobility has affected male migration practices.

6After a general overview of adolescent girls’ migration in West Africa (Section I), and a presentation of the study data and context (Section II), this article retraces the history of adolescent economic migration since the 1960s. Three periods are distinguished (Section III): a first period (1960-1979) marked by growth in migration of adolescent boys to contribute to the family economy; a second period (1980-1989) during which young women also began to migrate, and migration became an essential stage of adolescence for both sexes; and a third period (1990-2009) in which girl migrants started to outnumber their male counterparts, among whom migration became less frequent. A detailed analysis by period of these migration practices shows that individual and family rationales differ by gender, and raises new questions about the causes and consequences of the most recent migration dynamics (Section IV).

I – Adolescent girls’ migration, gender and family in West Africa

7For many years, research on labour migration in Africa was dominated by two competing schools, one which focused on the macro-structural determinants of mobility, and a second, the so-called micro-individual approach, which argued in terms of individual rationality and of the “cost-benefit” analyses underlying the decision to migrate. From the 1980s, new approaches were developed, incorporating intermediate structures – households and then social networks – in the models, and adding a gender perspective. Today, a plural, mixed approach tends to be favoured, combining macro-structural perspectives (economic, political and social) with micro (individual) and meso approaches (family, households, networks), not forgetting the time dimension (Piché, 2013). Recent research on adolescent girls’ migration has integrated these theoretical and methodological innovations, taking account of the diversity of contexts, of factors and of decision-making levels that shape young people’s mobility. Our approach seeks both to consider the economic, social and historical conditions in which these forms of mobility have taken hold, and to explore the links between individual motivation, family strategy and the influence of peer groups in migration practices.

1 – A gender approach to adolescent girls’ migration

8In the field of west African populatioin studies, a specific research strand devoted to female migration gradually emerged in the 1990s (Assogba, 1992; Findley, 1989; Gugler and Ludwar-Ene, 1995; United Nations, 1993; Ouedraogo, 1995). After many years of neglect, in which women’s mobility was mainly approached in terms of family-related migration, the phenomenon at last became visible, and emerged as a specific research topic. These studies revealed the rise in independent economic migration among young women, a phenomenon observed in many parts of the world (McKenzie, 2008; Montgomery et al., 2016; Temin et al., 2013; UNFPA, 2006a). When migration theories started taking gender into account, analysis began focusing on gender power relationships, which are socially constructed and may differ between contexts (Boyd and Grieco, 2003; Donato et al., 2006).

9Individual labour migration developed across West Africa throughout the twentieth century, [2] mainly among men; women’s opportunities for mobility were limited (Coquery-Vidrovitch, 1994). Even today, women’s freedom of movement is rarely seen in a positive light; it is often judged incompatible with “legitimate” femininity, or is even stigmatized and associated with prostitution (Pheterson, 2001). Drastic measures are sometimes taken to control women’s mobility. In Dogon country (Mali), for example, it was traditionally impossible for women to migrate without their families (Petit, 1998). Women’s labour migration has only developed recently in this region (in the 2000s) and social condemnation remains strong (Sauvain-Dugerdil, 2013), with the introduction of repressive measures in certain villages (Kassogue, 2014). [3] Despite its persistent negative connotations, economic migration of adolescent girls is now very widespread in West Africa, and has even become a mass phenomenon in many societies (Delaunay and Enel, 2009; Grosz-Nagté, 2000; Hertrich and Lesclingand, 2012a; Lambert, 2007; Linares, 2003).

10However, women’s subordinate position in society, as providers of domestic labour, is not necessarily challenged by economic migration. Women primarily migrate to towns and cities where they can find unskilled employment in domestic services and care (Ehrenreich and Hochschild, 2003). The job market reproduces the gender division of labour, often obliging migrant girls to take precarious and poorly-paid jobs (Sassen, 2010). In Mali and in West Africa [4] more generally, migrant girls from rural areas are employed mainly in the informal domestic sector in large cities, while young men engage in a wider range of occupations (farming, industry, services) (Delaunay, 1994; Delaunay and Enel, 2009; Hashim and Thorsen, 2011; Jacquemin, 2009, 2011; Lambert, 2007; Lesclingand, 2004a, 2011; Sauvain-Dugerdil, 2013).

11To understand the causes and consequences of youth migration, the practice must be viewed in relation to the community of origin, and the migrants’ viewpoints taken into account. Migration of boys and young men has been analysed as a means for them to raise their status within the family, where the age hierarchy and competition between young adults can be stressful (Ezra, 2000; Timera, 2001). Migration may provide a temporary escape from the domination of elders, while the money earned can be used to prove allegiance to the family community. In societies where men marry late, money earned during migration can also be used to pressure family elders into providing a wife (Capron and Kohler, 1975). The subordination of young women (linked to age and sex) is even greater, and they often see migration as a way not only to acquire material or symbolic resources, but also to free themselves from community control (Diarra and Kone, 1991; Lesclingand, 2004a, 2011; Sauvain-Dugerdil, 2013; Thorsen, 2007). In countries such as Mali, where boys greatly outnumber girls at school, girls consider experience of the city as a kind of informal apprenticeship. Learning through migration makes up for the absence of formal socialization in school, enabling young women to acquire “know-how” and “social graces” that they can use to their advantage in their home village (Hashim and Thorsen, 2011; Hertrich and Lesclingand, 2013; Kassogue, 2014; Lesclingand, 2004a; Sauvain-Dugerdil, 2013).

2 – The importance of intermediary groups: family and peer groups

12When intermediary structures (families and social networks) are included in the analysis of migration, migrants can be studied in relation to their families and peer groups, and their migration strategies can be linked to their assigned social roles. Male labour migration in Sahelian Africa, either seasonal or circular, has been interpreted as an adjustment mechanism that enables families to diversify their income or cope with a food crisis when their crops have failed (Ezra, 2000; Findley, 1994; Hampshire and Randall, 1999; Picouet, 2001). For women, in communities where they marry young and where marriage decisions are traditionally a family affair, migration may be a way of postponing entry into union and/or of gaining more say in the choice of spouse. In Senegal and Mali, several studies have revealed close links between adolescent girls’ migration and the start of their sexual and conjugal life. Here, migration is associated with marriage postponement, the emergence of new sexual behaviours and pre-marital childbearing, and weaker family involvement in the matrimonial process (Delaunay, 1994; Enel et al., 1994; Hertrich, 2007; Hertrich and Lesclingand, 2012a; Lambert, 1999; Mondain et al., 2007; Pison and Enel, 2005).

13Youth is a time when the desire for personal affirmation and for sharing values and behaviours with other people of the same age – sometimes in defiance of customary practice – is especially strong. Migration may thus provide a means to try new experiences and to discover new places and people. In West Africa, migration has become a major component of young people’s socialization, sometimes even a new “rite of passage” (Castle and Diarra, 2003). The role of peers is key to the institutionalization of migration and its continuation over the long term. It operates at different stages of the migration process. First, departure is made easier (and the risks inherent to departure greatly reduced) thanks to the experience of former migrants in the family or in social networks within or beyond the village. Second, the existence of migration networks simplifies economic and residential integration at destination. Last, the goods brought home by friends to the village, and their testimonies act as incentives and contribute to the spread of migration through emulation (Hertrich and Lesclingand, 2012a, 2013; Thorsen, 2014)

II – Data and background

1 – Event history data and population surveillance

14Our data are drawn mainly from the life event history survey of the Slam project (Suivi longitudinal au Mali), [5] a demographic surveillance system set up in the late 1980s (Hertrich, 1996). The survey records details of individuals’ marriage, birth, migration and religious histories. The migration module records all successive movements lasting at least three months, whatever the reasons for the movement or the respondent’s age, from birth up to the survey date. This means that practically all movements [6] are taken into account, designated interchangeably in this article by the terms migration and mobility. For all recorded movements, information such as date, place, duration and reason for movement are noted. For economic migration, [7] additional information is collected on type of work, family involvement and context of departure (person initiating the decision to migrate, consent of the family head, accompanying persons), arrival (knowledge of destination), and return (type and destination of earnings).

15The event history survey was conducted exhaustively in two villages (1,750 residents in 2009) on males and females of all ages. After the initial retrospective survey (1987-1989), four follow-up surveys were conducted (1994-1995, 1999-2000, 2004-2005, 2009-2010). In each round, existing event histories were updated and those of new residents (newcomers to the village and children born since the previous survey) were recorded in full. The event histories of individuals who had left the village were also updated by asking relatives or neighbours. [8]

16These longitudinal data can be used to outline long-term trends in migration over the 20 years of the population surveillance programme, and even over 50 years if retrospective data are included. An identical approach is used for both men and women. The upsurge in adolescent girls’ labour migration occurred after the first survey, so can be described in detail. For earlier years, measures of emigration are more approximate, since the individuals who left the village permanently before the first survey are not included. Earlier emigration is liable to be underestimated for this reason, resulting in an overestimation of the more recent increase. However, a methodological study of emigration involving the collection of genealogical data showed that while a bias exists at adult ages, the effect on measures of young people’s mobility is minimal, given that young people rarely migrate permanently (Hertrich and Lesclingand, 2012b).

17Our analyses concern the birth cohorts aged at least 15 years at the time of the last survey (2009-2010), i.e. a total of 2,107 individuals (974 men and 1,133 women) born before 1995 and present during at least one survey round. Migration is studied mainly between ages 10 and 20 (with an extension up to 25 years for certain analyses). [9]

Qualitative data

18Qualitative data were used to construct and interpret the quantitative analyses. They were drawn from various sets of interviews, some focusing on female migration (personal and group interviews in Bamako and in the village in 2001, group interviews in the village in 2011), and others approaching the question via a broader interview protocol (65 life histories recorded in 2002). Last, the field observation and informal dialogue developed during numerous visits over 25 years provided useful input for the project and the analytical frameworks.

2 – Characteristics of the study population

19The villages are in a region of south-eastern Mali, near the border with Burkina Faso, in the territory of the Bwa people. They are 450 km from Bamako, Mali’s capital city, and around 30 km from the nearest towns (San and Tominian). The villages are typical of Sudano-Sahelian rural Africa, with an economy dominated by subsistence crops (millet) grown on family-run farms. Fertility is high (8 children per woman), resulting in high natural growth (above 3% per year) which is partly offset by migration. No migration channels to Europe have been developed; migrants head to other parts of Mali or to neighbouring countries. To understand the development of youth migration in this population, certain aspects of its social organization and its socioeconomic and political situation should first be mentioned.

20Environmental and economic conditions are of prime importance. The food supply for a whole year is dependent upon a single farming season, with a rainy season spread over 3-4 months. In this Sudano-Sahelian zone, unpredictable climate and labour availability during the dry season have given rise to specific migration patterns (Cordell et al., 1996; Piché and Cordell, 2015), with temporary migration offering a means to sustain the domestic economy in times of food shortage or to provide an alternative source of income. Changes in farming conditions also influence investment in migration. As ploughs became more common from the mid 1970s, families began to need draft animals. For families with no money, the solution was to send their young men to work as herders for the Fulani livestock breeders, who paid them in head of cattle. [10] As we shall see, this form of mobility played a key role in the development of male labour migration. Today, most families are equipped with ox-drawn farm implements. [11]

21Family organization and kinship structures must also be taken into account, notably to understand the gender-specific features of migration practices. In patrilineal and virilocal societies, such as that of the Bwa, men are seen as the mainstays of their family, while women are mobile components of the system, moving from the authority of their father to that of their husband. This gender differentiation is reflected in the norms and perceptions associated with migration (Hertrich and Lesclingand, 2013; Lesclingand, 2004a). For a man, labour migration is generally seen as an act of loyalty to the family. For a woman, migration is viewed as normal if she accompanies her husband, but becomes more problematic if she shows any signs of challenging a male figure of authority (Hertrich, 2014), as is the case for labour migration.

22Decentralization and education policies were launched in Mali from the start of the democratization process (1991) and have certainly affected youth migration, but in different ways. On the one hand, improved road safety, the development of public transport and the general rise in mobility have made migration easier. On the other, the expansion of education has created alternatives to labour migration, notably for boys, who attend school for longer than girls (Section IV). In the late 2000s, most villages had a school and more than half of all children (both boys and girls) attended school, up from one in five in the 1980s (Lesclingand et al., 2017).

III – Fifty years of adolescent migration

1 – Long-term trends in youth labour migration

23In the 1950s, young people already moved around quite frequently, but generally for family-related reasons, girls and women especially. Girls were more often fostered out during childhood, and women moved to their husband’s home after marriage. Half of the women born before 1940 migrated before age 20 versus one-third of men (Table 1), though generally between neighbouring villages, or within the same sociocultural environment. From the 1960s, with the development of labour migration, young people’s mobility patterns changed considerably. Both sexes were concerned, but with differences in timing and frequency. Three main periods can be distinguished (Figure 1, Table 2).

Table 1

Indicators of youth migration by sex and birth cohort(a)

Table 1
Birth cohort Indicator Before 1940- 1950- 1960- 1965- 1970- 1975- 1980- 1985- 1990- 1940 1949 1959 1964 1969 1974 1979 1984 1989 1994 Individuals (%) who migrated at least once before age 20(b) Boys 36 42 61 91 88 96 91 91 92 90 Girls 51 60 72 83 78 93 96 97 99 99 Individuals (%) who migrated for work purposes at least once before age 20 Boys 5 25 47 77 79 89 73 72 67 65 Girls 0 0 5 13 31 58 80 80 90 83 Individuals (%) who migrated for work purposes at least once before age 20 by type of migration To Fulani 0 12 34 63 67 73 55 51 57 50 Other 5 18 17 21 37 51 46 46 37 39 Individuals (%) who have lived outside the Bwa territory before age 20 Boys 16 22 38 68 75 85 77 77 74 70 Girls 8 8 27 37 58 69 90 90 95 95 Median age at first migration (b) (c) Boys 27.8 23.3 18.0 15.4 14.8 12.8 14.9 13.9 13.6 12.6 Girls 19.9 17.4 16.9 16.8 16.5 14.1 13.8 12.6 11.8 11.0 Median age at first labour migration (c) Boys - 25.5 20.8 17.9 16.2 16.1 17.3 17.2 17.2 17.7 Girls - - - - - 18.1 16.0 15.6 15.0 15.8 Duration of labour migration (as a percentage of the period 10-19 years of age) Boys 1 4 8 13 16 23 17 17 18 13 Girls 0 0 1 3 6 11 22 26 33 23 Time spent outside Bwa territory (as a percentage of the period 10-19 years of age) Boys 3 4 4 16 17 16 18 21 24 12 Girls 1 3 6 13 20 17 28 34 33 25 Time spent in Bamako (as a percentage of the period 10-19 years of age) Boys 0 0 0 0 2 3 5 5 6 4 Girls 0 0 1 2 5 8 16 22 23 16 Observations Boys 71 60 66 46 55 88 100 144 183 161 Girls 95 53 83 60 72 88 127 175 203 177

Indicators of youth migration by sex and birth cohort(a)

(a) Data from the table of first migration.
(b) All types of migration (family, labour, fostering, schooling, marriage, etc.) lasting at least 3 months.
(c) Age at which 50% of the cohort has migrated at least once.
-: Less than 50% of the cohort migrated.
Coverage: Individuals surveyed as residents in at least one survey round (1987-1989, 1994-1995, 1999-2000, 2004-2005, 2009-2010).
Source: Life event history survey.
Figure 1

Long-term trends in youth economic migration. Percentage of individuals who migrated for work purposes at least once before age 20, by sex and year of birth(a)

Figure 1

Long-term trends in youth economic migration. Percentage of individuals who migrated for work purposes at least once before age 20, by sex and year of birth(a)

(a) Data from table of first labour migration.
Coverage: Individuals surveyed as residents in at least one survey round (1987-1989, 1994-1995, 1999-2000, 2004-2005, 2009-2010).
Source: Life event history survey.
Table 2

Characteristics of first labour migration during youth, by sex and birth cohort

Table 2
Boys Girls Indicator 1940 1965 1975 1985 1940 - - - --1964 1974 1984 1994 1964 1965 1975 --1974 1984 1985 -1994 Type of initiative and consent of domestic group head at time of departure Individual initiative with consent 57 62 74 76- 35 65 83 Individual initiative without consent 30 21 10 2- 50 24 6 Individual initiative, consent unknown 3 4 2 1- 10 4 1 Not individual initiative 11 13 14 21- 5 7 11 100 100 100 100- 100 100 100 Chi² test *** *** Migrated alone or with others Alone 68 39 80 63- 35 41 48 With villager 26 50 17 19- 61 47 38 With someone from outside village 5 11 2 19- 5 11 14 100 100 100 100- 100 100 100 Chi² test ** *** Geographical region Bwa territory 45 45 35 50- 30 24 28 Bamako 3 5 12 6- 44 54 56 Elsewhere in Mali 48 48 48 40- 24 21 16 Abroad 4 2 4 4- 3 1 0 100 100 100 100- 100 100 100 Chi² test * *** Activity Cattle herding 76 85 78 84- 0 0 1 Farm labour 8 5 8 9- 2 1 1 Domestic labour 1 2 0 1- 88 90 96 Services 3 4 8 4- 10 10 2 Manual or unskilled labour 12 4 6 1- 0 0 1 100 100 100 100- 100 100 100 Chi² test * *** Duration Less than 1 year 49 62 61 48- 52 37 28 1-3 years 43 33 31 38- 32 36 42 3+ years 8 6 8 14- 15 27 30 100 100 100 100- 100 100 100 Chi² test *** ** Type of earnings None 0 9 6 2- 18 14 9 Cattle 70 52 76 70- 0 0 0 Money 18 14 9 8- 36 9 15 Personal goods 0 2 2 3- 45 45 46 Personal goods and money/cattle 12 23 8 17- 0 33 29 100 100 100 100- 100 100 100 Chi² test ns ns Observations 77 120 166 165 12 71 211 216

Characteristics of first labour migration during youth, by sex and birth cohort

Note: A total of 12 women born between 1940 and 1964 migrated for the first time between ages 10 and 20. This number is too small for quantitative analysis.
Significance levels: ***: p < 1%; **: 1% ≤ p < 5%; *: 5% ≤ p < 10%; ns: p > 10%.
Coverage: All first labour migrations at ages 10-20 by individuals surveyed as residents during at least one survey round (1987-1989, 1994-1995, 1999-2000, 2004-2005, 2009-2010).
Source: Life event history survey.

24The first period (1960-1979; 1940-1964 birth cohorts) is marked by the expansion and generalization of male labour migration. While only a quarter of men born before 1950 had migrated for work purposes before age 20, two decades later, almost 80% had done so. This type of mobility was rare among women at that time (less than 15%). During the second period (1980-1989; 1965-1974 cohorts), adolescent girls’ labour migration increased rapidly, catching up with that of young men within just ten years. This gender convergence was short-lived however. The third period (1990-2009; 1975-1994 cohorts) saw a trend reversal, with labour migration remaining at high levels for girls, but decreasing among boys. Among the cohorts born in the early 1990s, a third of young men did not migrate before age 20, versus 15% of young women.

25We will separate these three periods to highlight the determinants of migration and their interplay with contemporary family and social rationales.

2 – The institutionalization of adolescent boys’ labour migration (1960-1979)

26During the first period (1960-1979, 1940-1964 cohorts), adolescent migration mainly concerned boys and young men, and tied in closely with family strategy.

Exclusively male economic migration

27Practically non-existent until then, labour migration began with the 1940s birth cohorts, becoming widespread among those born in the 1960s (Table 1, Figure 2). Only boys and young men were concerned. They migrated for two reasons, either to work as herders for Fulani livestock breeders, with payment in the form of head of cattle, or to find a job in the city or on a plantation. The first type of migration grew in frequency from the 1950 birth cohorts, and accounts for the largest share of economic mobility before age 20. The second type, already undertaken by men in earlier cohorts (less than 20%), begins at a later age and extends into early adulthood.

Figure 2

Generalization of male labour migration (1940-1964 cohorts). Percentage of individuals who migrated for work purposes at least once before age x, by sex and birth cohort(a)

Figure 2

Generalization of male labour migration (1940-1964 cohorts). Percentage of individuals who migrated for work purposes at least once before age x, by sex and birth cohort(a)

(a) Data from table of first labour migration.
Interpretation: Among the 1950-1959 birth cohorts, almost half of the men migrated at least once for work purposes before age 20 (70% before age 25) versus 5% of women. One-third of the men in these cohorts migrated at least once to work for Fulani livestock breeders before age 20, and 17% had migrated at least once for other forms of work (other than for the Fulani) before age 20 (60% before age 25).
Coverage: Individuals surveyed as residents in at least one survey round (1987-1989, 1994-1995, 1999-2000, 2004-2005, 2009-2010).
Source: Life event history survey.

Migration to support the family economy

28Migration to the Fulani territory began at a time of progress in farming techniques which included, as mentioned earlier, the spread of the plough in the 1970s. The Bwa families had no cattle, so sending their boys to work as herders provided an opportunity to acquire draft animals. This type of migration was not seen in a negative light, and was often initiated by the boys themselves (Table 2), who saw it as an important stage in their adolescence, in terms of work, responsibility and investment in the family farm.

“I became a young man when I went to work for the Fulani. … When I got back, I started working in the fields.”
Eugène, born in 1945
“It was my father who decided I should go, and I was happy about it. I felt I could go and get something for my family, and I was able to do so because I brought an ox back to the village.”
Unwati, born in 1964
This form of male labour migration is a financially advantageous and socially accepted practice which, in the space of two decades, has become totally institutionalized.

3 – Girls catch up with boys (1980-1989)

29The large-scale entry of girls onto the migration market took place in the second period (1980-1989; 1965-1974 birth cohorts). For both sexes, labour migration became a key milestone of their youth, though the reasons for migrating differed by sex.

A spectacular surge in girls’ labour migration

30Within the space of a decade, the number of girls migrating for work purposes had almost caught up with that of boys (Table 1, Figure 3). Still a marginal practice among those born before 1965 (below 15%), labour migration concerned more than half of all girls in the 1970-1974 cohorts, and became almost universal (80-90%) in the following ones. Among boys, migration to Fulani territory levelled off (70% of boys), while other forms of labour migration increased steadily. In the 1970-1974 cohorts, half of all men had migrated before age 20.

Figure 3

The rapid rise in adolescent girls’ labour migration (1965-1974 birth cohorts). Percentage of individuals who migrated for work purposes at least once before age x, by sex and birth cohort(a)

Figure 3

The rapid rise in adolescent girls’ labour migration (1965-1974 birth cohorts). Percentage of individuals who migrated for work purposes at least once before age x, by sex and birth cohort(a)

(a) Data from table of first labour migration.
Interpretation: Among the 1970-1974 birth cohorts, 55% of women and 80% of men migrated at least once for work purposes before age 18. At age 18, more than 70% of the men in these cohorts had migrated at least once to work for Fulani livestock breeders, and more than 20% had migrated at least once for other forms of work (other than for the Fulani).
Coverage: Individuals surveyed as residents in at least one survey round (1987-1989, 1994-1995, 1999-2000, 2004-2005, 2009-2010).
Source: Life event history survey.

31While in the previous period boys migrated for economic reasons to help out the family, adolescent girls’ labour migration emerged in response to individual stories and more personal objectives. Analysis of the event histories of the first girl migrants [12] shows that these “trailblazers” had often already spent some time in the city, for example as a child fostered out to help an “older sister” who had married there. After returning to the village, these fostered girls then went back to town, this time to work for a different, unrelated family. [13] With their worldliness, their smart appearance and their newly acquired goods (clothes and cooking utensils), these girls became role models for their peers and younger sisters, who were eager to follow suit (Lesclingand, 2011).

32For both sexes, labour migration has become a key stage in the transition to adulthood, seen by the adolescents themselves as an essential experience of personal development. By contrast, those who stay at home feel deprived of a part of their youth (Hertrich et al., 2012; Hertrich and Lesclingand, 2013).


“When you leave your village to go to the city, it means that you’re young, that you feel truly capable of doing your job.”
Judith, born in 1980


“It affected me [not migrating to the city] and it still makes me sad; I missed out on it.”
Félicienne, born in 1979

The role of migration in family rationales

35The place of adolescent girls’ migration in the family system is not the same as that of boys. To begin with, the activities and destinations are different. Young girls are employed as private housemaids (in more than 90% of cases), mainly in Bamako or in smaller towns (80%), while the boys more often work in the countryside, as cattle herders or farm workers (Table 2).

36Secondly, while male migration is generally encouraged by family heads (70% of first migrations), this is less often the case for young women, around half of whom leave home “furtively” without his consent (Table 2). However, nine in ten migrants of both sexes claim that they migrated on their own initiative, and departures became less “clandestine” as the practice expanded.

37Last, the earnings of migration are used differently by boys and girls. For young girls, the main aim is to build up a “trousseau” of clothes and cooking utensils. These items are generally purchased in town before returning to the village; money is rarely set aside for the family, except in the form of small gifts. Boys’ earnings, on the other hand, are mainly handed over to the family. This priority is explicit when payment is in head of cattle. It is also very visible in cases of urban migration; while the young migrant men are free to buy personal goods for themselves (transistor radio, bicycle, clothes, etc.) these are seen as extras that cannot be accepted in place of the money intended for the household head (Table 2) (Lesclingand, 2004b).


“When I came back to the village I had 75,000 CFA francs. I gave 50,000 to my father and kept the rest.”
Léon, a man, born in 1967


“The things I saw in the market, cups, loincloths and all that, they encouraged me to work harder, to have lots of money so that I could buy those cups and clothes.”
Behira, a woman, born in 1974

4 – When girl migrants outnumber boys (1990-2009)

40Starting in the 1990s, the history of adolescent migration took a new turn, when girls started to outnumber boys. Among the youngest birth cohorts (1985-1994), almost 90% of women had migrated at least once for work purposes before age 20, versus two-thirds of men (Table 1, Figures 1 and 4).

Figure 4

Expansion of adolescent labour migration (1975-1994 cohorts). Percentage of individuals who migrated for work purposes at least once before age x, by sex and birth cohort(a)

Figure 4

Expansion of adolescent labour migration (1975-1994 cohorts). Percentage of individuals who migrated for work purposes at least once before age x, by sex and birth cohort(a)

(a) Data from table of first labour migration.
Interpretation: Among the 1990-1994 birth cohorts, almost 80% of girls had migrated at least once for work purposes before age 18, versus 60% of boys.
Coverage: Individuals surveyed as residents in at least one survey round (1987-1989, 1994-1995, 1999-2000, 2004-2005, 2009-2010).
Source: Life event history survey.

For young girls, migration becomes an essential life stage

41The expansion of adolescent girls’ migration began to slow down after 1990, by which time it was practically universal, and initiated at an ever earlier age. One-third of the women in the 1985-1989 birth cohorts had migrated before age 14, compared with less than one in ten in the 1970-1974 cohorts (Figures 3 and 4). Periods of migration grew longer, in terms of both the total time spent as a labour migrant (Table 1) and first migration (Table 2).

42Now that most young girls migrate, the phenomenon is also more socially accepted. While they do not condone it, the family heads can no longer oppose a practice that concerns nine-tenths of all teenage girls. Adolescents of both sexes now rarely migrate for the first time without the consent of the family head (Table 2). At the same time, the conditions of departure are more varied – with friends but more often alone – suggesting that the journey is now safer thanks to the existence of family or village contacts at destination (Lesclingand, 2004b, 2011).

For young men, family demands are changing

43The decline in economic migration among boys and young men in the 1990s was due mainly to a fall in numbers going to work as herders for Fulani cattle owners. At its peak (1970-1974), this type of migration concerned two-thirds of all young men, but by the 1990 cohorts the proportion had fallen to a half (Table 1). Migration for other reasons remained stable, but was undertaken at later ages. By age 25, however, around 75% of young men had migrated for work purposes at least once (not counting herders for the Fulani) (Figure 4).

44The waning appeal of working for the Fulani is linked to changes in family economic circumstances. Today, in the villages studied, practically all families have oxen and a plough (see above), so prefer for their sons to stay at home to look after their own animals. Moreover, from the mid 1990s, several cases of exploitation (non-compliance with payment agreements, abusive treatment, etc.) led to a greater reluctance to send boys to work for the Fulani.

45Families’ investment in their children’s schooling is another explanatory factor. Schooling interferes with youth mobility to varying degrees (Table 3). At the very least, it defines a new life stage that precedes the migration experience but has no practical impact: the migration practices of young people with just a few years of primary schooling are comparable to those who are unschooled. However, boys who continue their education until the end of primary or beyond migrate three times less than their peers with little or no schooling. [14]

Table 3

Schooling and labour migration, 1975-1994 birth cohorts

Table 3
Cohorts Indicators 1975-1979 1980-1984 1985-1989 1990-1994 Distribution (%) by educational attainment (males) No schooling 73 65 55 47 Incomplete primary 15 12 17 26 Complete primary or higher 11 23 28 28 Overall 100 100 100 100 Distribution (%) by educational attainment (females) No schooling 93 86 83 69 Incomplete primary 7 11 13 16 Complete primary or higher 0 3 4 15 Overall 100 100 100 100 Men (%) who migrated for work purposes at least once before age 20 by educational attainment Labour migration to Fulani No schooling 65 60 67 68 Incomplete primary 47 69 83 70 Complete primary or higher 0 23 27 10 Overall 55 51 57 50 Labour migration other than to Fulani No schooling 51 56 48 51 Incomplete primary 50 44 41 44 Complete primary or higher 14 23 17 14 Overall 46 46 37 39 All types of labour migration No schooling 81 83 81 86 Incomplete primary 73 88 93 88 Complete primary or higher 14 37 32 14 Overall 73 72 67 65 Women (%) who migrated for work purposes at least once before age 20 by educational attainment No schooling 80 80 93 90 Incomplete primary 78 77 93 82 Complete primary or higher 48(a) Overall 80 80 90 83 Observations Men 100 142 181 161 Women 128 175 203 177

Schooling and labour migration, 1975-1994 birth cohorts

(a) Due to the small number of women with complete primary education, the four groups of birth cohorts were combined.
Coverage: Individuals surveyed as residents in at least one survey round (1987-1989, 1994-1995, 1999-2000, 2004-2005, 2009-2010).
Source: Life event history survey.

46There are two mechanisms whereby schooling affects migration. First, school is in direct competition with labour mobility when it continues up to ages when young people habitually migrate. Second, it also has an indirect effect by altering young men’s expectations. Boys who leave school at the age when their friends are returning home from their jobs for the Fulani consider that they are no longer of an age or status to accept the harsh living conditions of a cattle herder. Instead, they set their sights directly on work in the city.

47Behind these migration strategies, new rationales are developing, in which practices other than migration contribute to young men’s construction of their transition to adulthood. Families are less eager for their sons to migrate, and education offers an alternative to migration. However, while adolescent boys’ labour migration is declining, it is still highly prevalent; in the most recent birth cohorts, two-thirds of young men had migrated before age 20 and almost 80% before age 25 (Table 1, Figure 4). So why does labour migration persist when it is no longer really necessary?

IV – Factors behind current migration dynamics

48Numerous studies of international migration have revealed the inertia and “cumulative causality” mechanisms which lead to the perpetuation of migration practices, independently of the factors behind their initial development (Massey, 1990). A wide range of parameters are involved, linked not only to the circulation of information, the existence of established networks and, more generally, the desire to build upon past experience, but also to the role of migration in the construction of norms and the definition of status. In the study population, where many birth cohorts have now experienced migration, the practice has become an institution in its own right, with its own rules, norms and values (Guilmoto and Sandron, 2000). Migration is taken for granted both by individuals and families. It has become a “default practice” that requires no justification, and a sudden trend reversal is unlikely. While migration is no longer the optimal choice for adolescent boys, it is perpetuated through inertia.

1 – Varied rationales

49The reasons justifying migration are viewed differently by the various actors involved. While its importance for the family is dwindling, it can still be used by young people as an instrument to strengthen their status within the family. The cattle brought back from the Fulani are the young man’s personal contribution to the family assets. Even if they are added to the family herd, the animal(s) still “belong” to the person who brought them back, and entitle him to a say in family decisions, about the cattle at least. The individual investment also has a longer-term payback: no family member knows what will be decided when the head dies, and none can be sure that he will be considered on an equal footing to the brother or cousin who has increased the family assets by migrating rather than simply looking after the family interests at home. One of our respondents regretted having obeyed his father who had enough cattle and who kept him at home:

“I’m still sorry that I didn’t go to the Fulani, even to this day … because I said to myself that if my father’s cattle were gone [sold or taken back by the son who procured them] … at least if I’d gone, then those cattle [that I brought back myself] would still be here.”
(Mimanu, born in 1975)
This determination to work for the Fulani is especially strong for young men on the margins of the family (son of a deceased brother, brother with a different mother, etc.) who are concerned to secure their place in the family group. More recently, a new argument has emerged, that of saving up for a wedding – now a costly and rare event. Young men hope to increase their chances of celebrating their future marriage if a head of cattle can be sold to contribute to the cost. So the desire to leave is strong, especially for young people who are not attending school and cannot reap the benefits, even symbolic, of schooling.

2 – An urban experience that boys want too

50Family investment is a less valid argument to explain the persistence of urban migration among young men. It is widely acknowledged today that the financial gains of this temporary migration are limited: the jobs available for illiterate labourers (mainly in construction and farming) are not only poorly paid, but also precarious and increasingly difficult to find. Yet the urge to go to town remains as strong as ever. Now that urban migration has become the norm for young girls, young men see life in the city, in Bamako especially, as an essential stage in their personal development.

51During adolescence, girls go to the city earlier and for longer than boys. Among the cohorts born in the 1980s, 70% of girls versus 20% of boys had lived in Bamako before age 18 (Figure 5), and they had spent four times longer there than boys between ages 10 and 20 (Table 1).

Figure 5

Young girls’ experience of the city (1965-1989 cohorts). Percentage of individuals who have lived outside Bwa territory or in Bamako before age x, by sex and cohort(a)

Figure 5

Young girls’ experience of the city (1965-1989 cohorts). Percentage of individuals who have lived outside Bwa territory or in Bamako before age x, by sex and cohort(a)

(a) Data from the table of first residence (at least three months) outside the Bwa territory and of first residence (at least three months) in Bamako.
Interpretation: Out of 10 girls in the 1985-1989 cohorts, more than 9 have lived outside Bwa territory (versus 7 in 10 boys from the same cohorts) and 8 have lived in Bamako before age 20 (versus 3 in 10 boys).
Coverage: Individuals surveyed as residents in at least one survey round (1987-1989, 1994-1995, 1999-2000, 2004-2005, 2009-2010).
Source: Life event history survey.

52There is a large symbolic divide between boys’ and girls’ first migration experiences. Young cattle herders live in the bush where living conditions are harsh (poor food, poor hygiene, solitude). Young girls, for their part, discover the city lights, admittedly under conditions of vulnerability or even exploitation in some cases, but with families whose living conditions bear no comparison with those of the village (electricity, running water, varied diet, etc.). While the adversity of life in the bush was once valued in the construction of male identity (courage, physical strength, endurance, autonomy), it can no longer compete with the prestige of modern city living. The contribution of urban migration in terms of skills (learning the national language, cooking, etc.) and know-how (personal care and presentation, interpersonal relations, etc.) has always been clearly expressed by women (Hertrich and Lesclingand, 2013; Lesclingand, 2011), and this argument is now being used by young men, notably in their relations with young women:


“You’re different from the others [in the village] because of the way you dress, the way you take care of yourself”. People say “Ah, he went to Bamako, he looks well-dressed now” … If you look at a girl, you can see by the way she looks at you that she sees you differently.”
Kassum, born in 1975

54When the young men come back from the Fulani, they are confronted by young women with experience of city life, something quite unknown to them. This imbalance is seen as a challenge, or even as a threat to the established gender hierarchy. The threat takes two forms: first, lower chances on the marriage market due to a lack of urban experience, and second, unbalanced gender relations within the couple if the wife has more urban experience than her husband. The concern to avoid being “overtaken” by women has become an explicit driver of male labour migration to the city. During a group interview in the village (2011), young married men described in these terms the challenges facing young men returning from the Fulani:


“A boy who comes back from the Fulani is dirty. To make himself look good so that he can court a girl coming back from the city, he must first sell part of what he brought back and buy some clothes. After that, he has to start washing and looking after himself. He really thinks he’s inferior to the girl. He goes all shy next to the girl. So, to get rid of this lack of self-confidence, he also goes to town, even if only for a short while. … [When] the boy knows Bamako [and] the girl too, they are both open-minded; there’s no difference between them. But if the girl thinks the boy is dirty, they’ll never get along together.”

3 – From the aspirations of labour migration to the aspirations of urban experience

56The question of youth migration is thus shifting from the register of “labour migration” to that of “urban experience”. Young people of both sexes aim to include a spell in the city in their itinerary of transition to adulthood. The standard way to do this is to find work, but urban experience can also be acquired in other ways, through schooling, visits, etc. For men, the aim is to complete this stage before starting married life, and thus avoid being looked down upon by their wives. We observe that while more girls than boys now migrate during adolescence, this imbalance is temporary and gradually disappears before age 25. This gender rebalancing process after age 20, already observed for labour migration (Figure 4), is even more explicit if we look at those who have lived away from their home territory, for whatever reason. Figure 5 shows two indicators: [15] having lived in Bamako, and having lived outside the Bwa territory. The two graphs are very distinctive: at age 10, the indicators are identical for both sexes, but the gap widens rapidly from age 13 and does not start narrowing again until age 20. The dissociation of boys’ and girls’ migration experiences is clearly an adolescent phenomenon.

57The representation of these same indicators for previous cohorts (1965-1974) illustrates the emergence of this pattern where girl migrants were a step ahead of boys (Figure 5). At that time, migration outside the Bwa territory was still a mainly masculine affair. But women’s lives were already starting to open up. Focusing solely on migration to Bamako, we see that girls very rapidly – from the very start of female labour migration – took the leading position during adolescence, and this dominance was confirmed and strengthened in subsequent years. By migrating to the city, the girls “take the lead”, and urban experience became an inescapable component of the transition to adulthood for boys as well.


58Analytical frameworks in the field of migration have evolved considerably in recent years, with a greater appreciation of the complexity of the phenomenon, and of the factors and players involved (Piché, 2013). Yet with regard to sub-Saharan Africa, migration is still often seen as a response to immediate pressures (subsistence crises, poverty, etc.). This interpretation from the angle of vulnerability is also found in the approach to migrants’ living conditions, such as those of the “housemaids” employed in the cities.

59In our research, we chose to look at young people’s labour migration in a broader perspective and from different viewpoints. First, we analysed a contemporary phenomenon (almost universal youth migration) in its long-term context using statistical series that are comparable for both sexes. Second, the combination of both quantitative and qualitative data enabled us to counterbalance the factual approach to migration with the viewpoints of the young people concerned and their families. Last, our focus on a specific population enabled us to view migration practices in relation to their context and to socioeconomic rationales at community and family levels. While the longitudinal dimension of this corpus, its historical and thematic scope and its potential for analysis are highly original features, the data do not satisfy any criteria of national or even regional representativeness. Nonetheless, the study population exhibits characteristics – be it large-scale youth migration (Section I), the production system or socioeconomic and demographic indicators – that are widely shared in the region. It is likely, therefore, that migration strategies similar to those described here can be found, to varying extents, among other populations. [16]

60Our approach makes a dual contribution in this field. First, it demonstrates the scale of this youth migration. Throughout its history, adolescent girls’ labour migration has affected this society on several levels, well beyond the purely economic framework in which it is generally placed. It is a component of family transformation and, more broadly, of gender and intergenerational relationships. Second, it demonstrates the need for a critical outlook, and for a rethinking of the categories used to describe migration in Africa. Three general orientations, in terms of research findings and future perspectives, can be highlighted.

Migration is no longer an adjustment variable

61Our analyses show that youth migration can no longer be seen as a response to immediate constraints: when 80% of young people are concerned, the norm is to migrate and the scope for variation is limited. We must therefore move away from the conception of migration as an option of last resort by comparison with the preferred choice of sedentary living. For the young respondents, migration is the positive expression of agency, and it is those who do not migrate who now feel vulnerable.

A shift in the purpose of migration from material gain to status enhancement

62The economic aspect of migration should also be put in perspective. The young girls mention the material gains of migration, but they often see them as secondary to the experience acquired and its usefulness for their life as a woman (self-confidence, negotiating skills, freedom to leave home again). For young men, the economic advantages of migration are contested by the families themselves if they already have their own cattle, if school attendance is an available alternative and if jobs in the city are scarce. Last, migration is not so much an end in itself as a means to establish one’s position within the family, among peers and, more broadly, in existing or future social networks. With women’s arrival on the migration market, the status-enhancing role of migration has been further strengthened. Experience of the city is now essential for young men wishing to avoid feeling inferior their wives. Migration is becoming an instrument or a resource for building status and identity, for securing a social position on the basis of migration capital, now measured more in terms of urban experience than of material benefits.

Multiple and constantly evolving migration dynamics

63Youth labour migration is a multifaceted phenomenon involving a wide range of factors which evolve over time. Despite a statistical profile similar to that of male migration, adolescent girls’ migration is based on very different experiences and rationales. Moreover, migration practices do not necessarily change when their determinants are no longer the same. Male mobility was not radically transformed when family expectations were lowered; existing normative frameworks, inertia and new motivations were strong enough to ensure its continuation. According to recent data, three main factors are liable to affect girls’ adolescent migration over the short or medium term. First, increased school enrolment, whose effects are already visible among boys, will likely play a role. Second, the fact that status-enhancing urban experience can be achieved through other forms of mobility, may weaken the popularity of labour migration. Last, future migration trends will doubtless be shaped by interactions between male and female practices. For the moment, girls and boys migrate separately, but the purposes and outcomes of migration might change if this gender segmentation were to be challenged.


We wish to express our gratitude to the populations of the study villages for their warm welcome and their long-term investment in this research project. And special thanks to our assistant, Abednego Kamaté, who has remained at our side from the outset of this project.


  • [*]
    Université Côte d’Azur, CNRS, IRD, URMIS, France.
    Correspondence: Marie Lesclingand, Laboratoire URMIS (UMR205), MSH - Bâtiment SJA3, Pôle Universitaire St Jean d’Angely, 24, avenue des Diables Bleus, 06357 Nice Cedex 4, France. E-mail:
  • [**]
    French Institute for Demographic Studies.
  • [1]
    For example, the surveys of the REMUAO programme conducted in the 1990s in several countries (Traoré and Bocquier, 1998), or the EMIUB survey in 2000 in Burkina Faso (Piché and Cordell, 2015).
  • [2]
    According to historians, male labour migration began with forced labour migration (early twentieth century) and the strong demand for labour to build infrastructure during colonization. It continued after independence and grew in scale from the 1970s (Traoré and Bocquier, 1998).
  • [3]
    Kassogue (2014) mentions the creation in certain villages of “coercion committees” set up to prevent girls from migrating by imposing not only material penalties (fines) on the families concerned, but also social penalties (ostracism of families incapable of “controlling” their young girls’ mobility).
  • [4]
    This phenomenon is not specific to Africa. Migration of women to work as housemaids is one of the most widespread forms of mobility across the world, at both domestic and international levels (UNFPA, 2006b).
  • [5]
  • [6]
    Including seasonal migration, which generally lasts 3-6 months and which is not recorded when the usual criterion of 6 months is applied.
  • [7]
    Two types of mobility are defined as economic migration: migration to work as herders for Fulani livestock breeders, and migration to the city or to employment areas (plantations, mines, etc.) to look for paid work.
  • [8]
    Information is updated up to the time of first marriage for emigrant women and the survey date for emigrant men if they belong to village lineages. For the other migrants, data collection stops when they leave the village.
  • [9]
    First labour migration begins slightly after age 10, while age 20 is close to women’s median age at first marriage (19.7 years for the 1985-1989 cohorts and 23.1 years for men). Marriage brings the period of youth and migration independence to an end for women, but not for men.
  • [10]
    They receive one head of cattle, in principle, for six months work as a herder.
  • [11]
    In 2009, 95% of the population belonged to a domestic group with at least one plough, and with at least one ox in 84% of cases (at least three in half of cases).
  • [12]
    Qualitative analysis of the life event histories of 28 women born between 1950 and 1970 and who were the first in the study villages to migrate to the city during adolescence (Hertrich et al., 2012; Lesclingand, 2004b).
  • [13]
    The development of this type of domestic employment as a “little maid” has been observed in other contexts, notably in the capital of Côte d’Ivoire (Jacquemin, 2009).
  • [14]
    The same results are found for women (comparable migration rates for women with no schooling and those with incomplete primary schooling; less frequent migration among those with complete primary schooling) although women with complete primary schooling are still few in number.
  • [15]
    An indicator of urban residence, not shown here, produces the same result.
  • [16]
    Longitudinal data on other sites would be needed in order to confirm this; the question could be addressed, for example, via health and demographic surveillance sites (HDSS), of which 30 exist in sub-Saharan Africa (

In many West African societies, labour migration has become a part of life for teenage girls. A traditional practice for boys, it has more recently caught on among young women, and is becoming a driver of sociodemographic change in rural communities. This article analyses the similarities and differences between girls’ and boys’ labour migration in a rural population of Mali. It draws upon longitudinal event history data to retrace the history of migration over a 50-year period (1960-2009) and to study its determinants, taking account of the socioeconomic context and of family rationales. Three main periods are defined, in terms of migration timing, family strategies and gender relations: a first period (1960-1979) marked by the rise of boys’ migration undertaken mainly to support the family; a second (1980-1989) marked by the rapid rise of adolescent girls’ mobility, and a third (1990-2009), marked by a weakening of the convergence between the sexes. Our analyses reveal the dynamics of the phenomenon and the influence of girls’ migration behaviour on contemporary male migration in a context where male mobility no longer necessarily takes precedence within the family.


  • migration
  • adolescence
  • gender
  • family
  • event history survey
  • Africa
  • Mali

Quand les filles donnent le ton. Migrations adolescentes au Mali

Les migrations de travail se sont imposées comme des composantes de la vie adolescente dans de nombreuses sociétés ouest-africaines. Ancien pour les hommes, le phénomène s’est étendu plus récemment aux jeunes femmes, au point d’apparaître comme un élément moteur des changements sociodémographiques du milieu rural. Cet article analyse l’articulation entre les migrations de travail des jeunes femmes et des jeunes hommes dans une population rurale du Mali. Il s’appuie sur des données biographiques longitudinales pour retracer l’histoire des migrations sur une période de 50 ans (1960-2009) et en étudier les déterminants en fonction du contexte socioéconomique et des rationalités familiales. Trois principales périodes sont distinguées, en termes de temporalités, d’enjeux familiaux et de rapports de genre : la première (1960-1979) marquée par l’essor des migrations masculines en étroite articulation avec l’économie familiale, la deuxième (1980-1989), avec une généralisation rapide de la mobilité féminine, et enfin la période récente (1990-2009) où la convergence entre les sexes recule. Les analyses mettent en évidence la dynamique du phénomène et l’influence des migrations féminines sur les pratiques migratoires masculines contemporaines dans un contexte où la famille ne privilégie plus forcément la mobilité des hommes.


Cuando las chicas marcan la pauta. Migraciones de adolescentes en Mali

Las migraciones de trabajo se han impuesto como componentes de la vida adolescente en numerosas sociedades de África occidental. Antiguo en los hombres, el fenómeno se ha extendido más recientemente a las mujeres jóvenes, hasta el punto de aparecer como un elemento motor de los cambios socio-demográficos en el medio rural. Este artículo analiza la articulación entre las migraciones de trabajo de las mujeres y de los hombres jóvenes en una población rural de Mali. Se basa en datos biográficos longitudinales que reconstituyen la historia de las migraciones durante un periodo de 50 años (1960-2009) y estudian los determinantes en función del contexto socio-económico y de las lógicas familiares. Se distinguen tres periodos principales en términos de temporalidad, de intereses familiares y de relaciones de género: el primero (1960-1979) está marcado por el auge de las migraciones masculinas articuladas estrechamente a la economía familiar; el segundo (1980-1989) conoce un rápido crecimiento de la movilidad femenina; en fin, durante el más reciente (1990-2009) la convergencia entre los dos sexos retrocede. Los análisis ponen en evidencia la dinámica del fenómeno y la influencia de las migraciones femeninas sobre las prácticas masculinas contemporáneas, en un contexto familiar que no privilegia forzosamente la movilidad masculina.


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Marie Lesclingand [*]
  • [*]
    Université Côte d’Azur, CNRS, IRD, URMIS, France.
    Correspondence: Marie Lesclingand, Laboratoire URMIS (UMR205), MSH - Bâtiment SJA3, Pôle Universitaire St Jean d’Angely, 24, avenue des Diables Bleus, 06357 Nice Cedex 4, France. E-mail:
Véronique Hertrich [**]
  • [**]
    French Institute for Demographic Studies.
Translated by
Catriona Dutreuilh
This is the latest publication of the author on cairn.
This is the latest publication of the author on cairn.
Uploaded on on 30/05/2017
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