Emancipation or marginalization: the dilemmas of “Desgastada” (Aged) Gambian women in Spain

Caroline H. Bledsoe, Northwestern University
Papa Sow, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona

Immigrants to Europe typically assume fertility levels approaching those of their new host countries. The Gambian-born population in Spain, however, has what may be one of the highest total fertility rates in Europe: 3.67. Based on an exploratory 2005 study using the Spanish census and the municipal register and on fieldwork in Catalonia, this paper examines the dynamics of migration, polygyny and fertility among older Gambian women who may “age” or “wear out” physically from childbearing. In contrast to their life in Africa, older immigrant women in Spain who “age” in this way – desgastada in Spanish -- are doubly vulnerable. The strength of European laws of monogamy renders them vulnerable to being “selected out” by their husbands, often resulting in being sent home in favor of new wives to replace them. Some women, however, manage to "emancipate” themselves, by obtaining a residence permit and through births that draw the assistance of social services. Complications for theories of fertility convergence, cultural assimilation, and social and biological aging are considered.

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Presented in Session 70: Value changes and family formation