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Desperately Seeking: The Typical Expat Woman

In honor of International Women’s Day on 8 March, we are taking a closer look at the average expat woman. Where does she live? Why has she moved there? What’s the state of her career? And is she happy abroad? Based on our Expat Insider survey, we can answer these questions and see if her experience of life abroad differs from that of her male peers.

The Basics: Age, Nationality, and Destination of Choice

In terms of age group, the average expat woman is most likely to be thirty-something — with 31%, women between 31 and 40 have the largest share among the female respondents in last year’s Expat Insider survey. However, the actual average age is somewhat higher at 41.6 years: after all, up to one in four women belongs either to the age group in their 40s (23%) or is older than 50 (24%).

In general, though, expats in the 50+ age bracket are more likely to be men (55% vs. 45% women). The men featured in the survey also have a higher average age of 46.0 years and cite retiring abroad more frequently as one of their reasons for moving (9% vs. 5% of expat women).

When it comes to the typical countries of origin, the top five nationalities among expat women are very similar to the worldwide average: female expats from the US, the UK, Germany, France, and Canada make up 39% of all women participating in the survey. Among all survey participants, Canadians don’t make it into the top five, though, with Indian expats being represented instead.

Taking a look at the nationalities where women make up a disproportionate percentage yields more interesting results: here, expat women from Eastern and Central European countries like Russia (86% female), Bulgaria (76%), Hungary (75%), Ukraine (75%), and Poland (74%) predominate.

There’s a similar difference regarding women’s current countries of residence: the top five — Germany, the US, the UK, Spain, and Switzerland — are the same destinations preferred by all respondents regardless of gender. However, women are largely overrepresented in other countries like Ireland (78% female), Greece (77%), or Italy (77%).

Women Move for Love — Men for Work

What motivated all these women to try their luck in a foreign country? If one analyzes the reasons for moving abroad by gender, the answers sound almost too stereotypical to be true. Women move abroad for love, men for work.

To be more precise, women most often give one of the following reasons for moving abroad: their partner’s job or education (16%), the wish to live in their partner’s home country (12%), as well as finding a new job on their own (11%).

One in ten men also moved abroad to live in his partner’s or spouse’s home country; however, their two most important reasons for relocating include finding a new job (13%) and being sent by their employer (15%). The latter — a typical foreign assignment — is singled out by only 7% of all women as their main reason for the move. They are far more likely to be the “traveling spouse” following their partner to another country.

Before actually moving, expat women tend to see these factors as a particular benefit: general living standards in their host country (63%), personal safety (51%), as well as language (44%). Indeed, more than one in four women (27%) speak the local language of their destination fluently.

Romance and Raising a Family Abroad

Although following or joining their partner is an important reason for many women who moved abroad, not all expat women are in a committed relationship. In fact, they are more frequently single than men living abroad (39% vs. 30%).

Those women who do have a significant other are just as likely as male expats to be in an intercultural relationship: nearly three in five (57%) are in a relationship with someone from another country. In comparison to men, they are less often involved in an international long-distance relationship, though: about one in six male respondents (16%) are currently not living in the same country as their partner, but only one in ten women.

There’s one thing both genders have in common when it comes to romance: men and women alike are satisfied with their relationship — 84% and 85%, respectively, judge this aspect of their life positively. Every other woman (51%) couldn’t even be any happier: moving abroad for love does seem to be worth it overall.

Love, marriage, and a baby carriage? Not necessarily. On average, women living abroad are not only more likely to be single than male expatriates, but they tend to be childless more frequently, too: among the male respondents, 45% don’t have any children at all, while 54% of the female participants gave the same answer. Both these trends might also be related to women’s lower average age, though: the older the participants, the more likely are they to be in a committed relationship and/or to have kids.

On the other hand, more than one in four women (27%) are currently raising children abroad. Another 4% have dependent children but aren’t living in the same country as them right now — a very low number compared to 13% of male respondents who are in a similar situation.

Highly Qualified — But Working Less for Lower Pay

All in all, 82% of expat women have at least a bachelor’s degree, in comparison to 79% of the men participating in the Expat Insider survey. The slightly higher level of formal education isn’t necessarily reflected in their employment status, though. About one in four survey respondents (24%), describe their employment status as employee: this percentage hardly varies by gender. Apart from that, there are some stark differences between women and men living abroad.

Expat women tend to be teachers or academics (11%), homemakers (9%) or in between jobs (9%), but they are underrepresented among managers working abroad (9% of women vs. 20% of men). Female managers are also more likely to work in middle management (58%), with only one in four making it to top executive status (compared to 45% of male managers) — be it due to the oft-cited “glass ceiling” or other reasons.

The gender-based differences are striking with regard to field of employment and working hours, too. Many expat women work in education (20%), advertising, marketing, or PR (8%), as well as healthcare (7%). Fields like IT or manufacturing and engineering are dominated by men, though (13% and 12% respectively). Men are also more likely to prioritize work in their lives, while women work part time twice as often (22% vs. 11%).

All these factors combined — employment status, seniority, chosen field, and working hours — might help to explain why fewer expat women have benefited financially from their move. Among men working abroad, 56% have improved their job-related income in comparison to their home country; among women, it’s just 47%, whereas one in three women is actually worse off right now.

Gender Trouble versus General Happiness

Money doesn’t buy happiness, as the saying goes. So, while the average expat women might not have profited financially from moving abroad as much as her male peers, that doesn’t mean that life abroad is unpleasant — or does it?

The bad news first: merely due to their gender, about one in five women (21%) have recently felt uncomfortable or unwelcome in their current country of residence. This is especially prevalent in destinations like India, Japan, or some of the Gulf States.

This doesn’t necessarily seem to impact overall happiness, though. Both genders are equally satisfied with their life abroad and their personal life in general — up to four in five respondents give positive ratings. In light of such great results, it might not be that surprising that nearly three in ten women (29%) would like to stay abroad possibly forever.

Further Reading

Relocation Support: The Gender Difference

The Expat Insider Business Edition explored the types of relocation support that global employees receive and found that, while the support offered to men and women are generally quite similar, there are some gender differences in terms of the relocation support needed.