Gender Imbalance and Impact of Migration on Cities

Women outnumber men in the majority of the world’s cities. However, a number of developing cities, which are often characterised by large immigrant flows, register an excess of men. Combined with other factors, the incoming population profile is driving a gender imbalance in such cities, which is negatively affecting their labour markets and putting pressure on their social security systems.

Top 10 Male-Dominated Cities, 2012

Top 10 Male-Dominated Cities 2012

Source: Euromonitor International

Note:  Chart features the top 10 cities in terms of male to female ratio out of 120 of the world’s major cities 

Excess of men in Persian Gulf cities

The Persian Gulf cities (Doha, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Manama, Kuwait City, Riyadh) have the world’s largest gender gaps. In 2012, there were 300 men to 100 women in Doha, while the respective figures in Delhi were 115 men to 100 women, this being the highest male to female ratio outside the Persian Gulf. Large-scale immigration of male labourers often unable to bring their families with them has been a major cause of the current gender imbalance in the Persian Gulf cities.

In fact, in 2012, the Persian Gulf cities featured the highest foreign population shares of 120 of the world’s major cities. For example, foreign citizens comprised 89% of the total population in Dubai, which was twice the level in Geneva, the respective leader outside the Persian Gulf. The discovery of oil in the Persian Gulf region in the 20th century led to increasing demand for male workers, thereby shaping its immigration profile accordingly.

“Missing women” phenomenon in Chinese, Indian and Pakistani cities

In contrast to the Persian Gulf cities, where migrant workers mainly come from Asian countries and other Arab states, the populations of Chinese, Indian and Pakistani cities have been enlarged by rural-urban immigration. Despite the present shift towards more gender-balanced migration, historically it has been male-dominated. Moreover, the skewed sex ratio in these cities has been magnified significantly by sex-selective abortions and infanticide as local cultural norms value male over female children.

In 2012, there were 110 males to 100 females in Chinese, Indian and Pakistani cities, thus creating a “missing women” phenomenon. Their local sex ratio was on average five males to 100 females higher than elsewhere in their respective countries as a result of the two trends discussed above. Sex-selective abortions tend to be more prevalent among educated and richer urban couples, who have increasing access to ultrasound, while the high administrative and economic status of large cities encourages abundant flows of rural-urban migration.

Gender imbalances challenge local governments

Large gender gaps tend to have a negative impact on the workforce profile in cities as they create an imbalance in the structure of skills in the labour market and, in the case of male-dominated rural-urban migration, increase urban unemployment. Gender imbalances also lead to a higher number of dependent single people in the cities. Combined with the ageing population, this will put pressure on their social security systems. Meanwhile, the “missing women” phenomenon in Chinese cities is believed to aggravate crime, mostly related to human trafficking and prostitution.