View of Altos de Chavón, near La Romana
Courtesy Mark Salyers
The Dominican Republic was a country of migrants in the
1980s; according to the 1981 census, nearly one-quarter of
population was living in a province other than that in
had been born. Surveys in the mid-1970s found that nearly
twothirds of city dwellers and half of those in the
migrated at least once. Rural areas in general, especially
Central Cibao, have experienced significant levels of outmigration . The movement of peasants and the landless into
republic's growing cities accounted for the lion's share
migration. Indeed, Dominicans had even coined a new word,
campuno, to describe the rural-urban campesino
The principal destinations for migrants were the National
District followed by the provinces of La Romana,
and San Pedro de Macorís
fig. 1). In the National
46 percent of the inhabitants were migrants. The
zones were the other major destinations for migrants in
Women predominated in both rural-urban and urban-rural
migration. Men, however, were more likely than women to
city to city or from one rural area to another. In
migrants earned more than non-migrants, and they suffered
rates of unemployment, although underemployment was
Urban-rural migrants had the highest incomes. This
however, consisted of a select group of educated and
workers, mostly government officials, teachers, and the
moved from cities to assume specific jobs in rural areas.
received higher wages as a recompense for the lack of
amenities in villages.
Migrants spoke of the migration chain (cadena)
tied them to other migrants and to their home communities.
served as the links in the chain. They cared for family,
and businesses left behind, or, if they had migrated
assisted the new arrivals with employment and housing.The
degree of support families could, or were willing to, give
migrant varied widely.
The process of rural-urban migration typically involved
series of steps. The migrant gradually abandoned
sought more non-agricultural sources of income. Migrants
arrived in the largest, fastest growing cities "green"
countryside. They acquired training and experience in
intermediate-sized cities and in temporary nonfarm jobs en
International migration played a significant role in
livelihood of many Dominicans. Anywhere from 8 to 15
the total population resided abroad. Estimates of those
and working in the United States in the mid-1980s ranged
300,000 to as high as 800,000. Roughly 200,000 more were
Juan, Puerto Rico, many of them presumably waiting to get
the United States. Most migrants went to New York; but by
mid-1980s, their destinations also included other cities
A sizable minority (about one-third) emigrated because
were unemployed, but most did so to attain higher income,
continue their educations, or to join other family
the early 1980s, most emigrants were relatively better
and more skilled than the Dominican populace as a whole.
came from cities, but the middling to large farms of the
overpopulated Cibao also sent large numbers. Working in
United States has become almost an expected part of the
Dominicans from families of moderate means.
Cash remittances from Dominicans living abroad have
integral part of the national economy. Migrants'
constituted a significant percentage of the country's
(see Dominican Republic - Balance of Payments
, ch. 3).
were used to finance businesses, to purchase land, and to
the family's standard of living. Most migrants saw sending
as an obligation. Although some refused to provide
they came under severe criticism from both fellow migrants
those who remained behind. The extent to which a migrant's
earnings were committed to family and kin was sometimes
Anthropologist Patricia Pessar has described a Dominican
New York who earned less than US$500 per month. He sent
this to his wife and children and another US$100 to his
and unmarried siblings.
Money from abroad had a multiplier effect; it spawned a
veritable construction boom in migrants' hometowns and
neighborhoods in the mid-1970s. Migrants also contributed
significant sums for the church back home. Many parish
made annual fund-raising trips to New York to seek
local parish needs.
The impact of out-migration was widely felt; in one
village, for example, 85 percent of the households had at
one member living in New York in the mid-1970s. Where
was common, it altered a community's age pyramid: eighteen
forty-five-year olds (especially males) were essentially
Emigration also eliminated many of the natural choices for
leadership roles in the home community.
Data as of December 1989