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Effects of spousal migration on access to healthcare for women left behind: A cross-sectional follow-up study



Women left behind by migration represent a unique and growing population yet remain understudied as key players in the context of migration and development. Using a unique longitudinal survey of life in Bangladesh, the Matlab Health and Socioeconomic Surveys, we examined the role of spousal migration in healthcare utilization for women. The objective of this study was to assess realized access to care (do women actually get healthcare when it is needed) and consider specific macrostructural, predisposing, and resource barriers to care that are related to migration.

Methods and findings

In a sample of 3,187 currently married women, we estimated multivariate logistic and multinomial regression models controlling for a wide range of baseline sociodemographic factors measured as far back as 1982. Our analyses also controlled for selection effects and explored two mechanisms through which spousal migration can affect healthcare utilization for women, remittances and frequent contact with spouses. We found that women with migrant spouses were approximately half as likely to lack needed healthcare compared to women whose spouses remained in Bangladesh (predicted probability of not getting needed healthcare 11.7% vs. 21.8%, p<0.001). The improvements in access (logistic regression coefficient for lacking care for left-behind women -0.761 p<0.01) primarily occurred through a reduction in financial barriers to care for women whose spouses were abroad.


Wives of international migrants showed significantly better access to healthcare even when accounting for selection into a migrant family. While the overall story is one of positive migration effects on healthcare access due to reductions in financial barriers to care, results also showed an increase in family-related barriers such as not being permitted to get care by a family member or travel alone to a facility, indicating that some of the benefits of migration for women left behind may be diluted by gendered family structures.

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