Most research on migrant women's employment is concentrated on just two areas of employment: domestic work (cleaning and care) and the sex industry. Thus academics inadvertently emphasise migrant women who work in the lesser skilled sectors of the labour market.
Employment in the domestic work sector rose sharply in the 1990s, especially in Southern Europe but also in countries of the global North.
Theoretical discussions of female migration have revolved strongly around these sectors of the labour market, particularly domestic employment. For instance, Saskia Sassen suggests that demand for labour in the marginalised, flexible and devalued sectors of production and services in global cities is often being met by migrants, especially migrant women. In particular, the rising labour market participation of women in the global North, alongside an increase in the ageing population, has resulted in substantial labour shortages in unpaid informal care that women had often provided, intensifying demand for paid care-givers. She suggests that women from the global South, faced with a poor economic situation in their home country, migrate to fill this demand in wealthier countries. This recognition of the significant presence of poorly paid migrant women workers in the privileged centres of global power provides an antidote to the emphasis in much of the migration literature on prestigious (largely male) financial and scientific experts and managers who are seen as the drivers of globalisation. Sassen insists that migrant women too form part of the globalisation process, albeit in a less celebrated role.
The process through which this migration of women is arranged, and the effects of such migration, are both clearly elaborated by Arlie Hochschild. She points out that when women move from the South to the North to care for a child or an elderly person in a wealthier country they leave behind families who themselves need care. She suggests that the emigration of woman thus results in her own family needing to bring in someone from a poorer area to look after her children and parents. Sometimes another member of her family, such as a sister, may be remunerated to do the caring. This creates a chain of migration, which is commonly called the global care chain. This is defined "as a series of personal links between people across the globe based on the paid or unpaid work of caring."
Both Sassen and Hochschild have contributed much to theorising the migration of women. However, they lay women's inputs to the new global economy firmly within certain commodified or paid forms of household work, such as in the cleaning and caring industries. This refrain is echoed in the literature on global labour where much of the writing on gendered migrations allocates women lowly occupations "as exotic, subservient or victimised, or relegated to playing supporting roles"
While, in this analysis, women are seen as contributing to lesser skilled sectors of the labour market, in countries where family migration is the dominant mode of migration female migration is largely seen as a social issue, not an economic one. Women, who dominate family migration streams, are therefore not necessarily analysed in terms of their labour market participation, but may rather be seen as recipients of welfare. Moreover, even when female family migrants´ labour market participation is considered, they are rarely seen as having skills needed to contribute meaningfully to the knowledge economy.