Skip to main content

International Migration and Educational Assortative Mating in Mexico and the United States


This paper examines the relationship between migration and marriage by describing how the distributions of marital statuses and assortative mating patterns vary by individual and community experiences of migration. In Mexico, migrants and those living in areas with high levels of out-migration are more likely to be in heterogamous unions. This is because migration increases the relative attractiveness of single return migrants while disproportionately reducing the number of marriageable men in local marriage markets. In the United States, the odds of homogamy are lower for migrants compared with nonmigrants; however, they do not vary depending on the volume of migration in communities. Migrants are more likely than nonmigrants to “marry up” educationally because the relatively small size of this group compels them to expand their pool of potential spouses to include nonmigrants, who tend to be better educated than they are. Among migrants, the odds of marrying outside of one’s education group increase the most among the least educated. In Mexican communities with high rates of out-migration, the odds of marrying outside of one’s education group are highest among those with the highest level of education. These findings suggest that migration disrupts preferences and opportunities for homogamy by changing social arrangements and normative climates.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1


  1. 1.

    About 56% of Mexican male migrants in the United States aged 18–40 years were single in 2000.

  2. 2.

    Esteve and McCAA (2006) also examined educational assortative mating patterns for Mexicans in the United States and Mexico. Our studies differ in several respects. Their study examined how the educational assortative mating patterns of individuals of Mexican ethnicity (i.e., Mexican-born and Mexican ethnicity) in the United States compares with Mexicans in Mexico and non-Hispanic whites. In contrast, our study investigates how individual migration statuses and community-level migration affect educational assortative mating in the United States and Mexico. Our analyses also include more extensive comparisons through the inclusion of broader age groups.

  3. 3.

    97.3% of all migrants in the International Migration Supplement of the 2000 Mexican census migrated to the United States.

  4. 4.

    Despite an increasing trend toward permanent Mexican immigration to the United States, migration flows are still predominantly made up of circular moves by men, many of whom first migrate while single (Cerrutti and Massey 2001; Frank and Wildsmith 2005). Therefore, it is likely that many married migrants who are separated from their spouses on the date of the interview were single return migrants prior to marriage. Because single return migrants are more likely than nonmigrants to “marry up” educationally, the exclusion of these individuals and their spouses may understate the degree to which migration reduces homogamy.

  5. 5.

    Our estimates are biased to the extent that assortative mating patterns of marriages that remain intact is distinct from those that dissolve and that remarriages differ from first marriages (Qian 1997). Divorced couples are more heterogamous than couples who remain together; however, the volume and selectivity of divorce is not large enough to affect the distribution of educational homogamy in the United States (Mare and Schwartz 2006). It is unclear whether the inclusion of divorced couples would alter the impact of individual migration status and community-level migration rates on assortative marriage.

  6. 6.

    Data limitations in the 2000 Mexican census prevent us from differentiating between those who had never migrated and those who migrated to the United States and returned to Mexico prior to 1995.

  7. 7.

    The measure also includes individuals who do not self-identify as Mexicans. We include these individuals because of the high intermarriage rates of Hispanics who are largely composed of Mexican Americans.

  8. 8.

    We also conducted analyses classifying the communities into areas with high levels of male/female migration depending on whether the gender-specific migration rates were above or below the 50th and 75th percentiles. Although the magnitude of the effect is accentuated when we classify the communities into areas with high levels of migration using higher sex-specific migration rates, our general results do not change.

  9. 9.

    We conducted sensitivity analyses using alternative geographic units. Our results change little.

  10. 10.

    Our models do not produce coefficients for the odds of homogamy/crossing for the reference categories (i.e., couples in which both spouses are nonmigrants or communities with low levels of male and female migration). This is because we include interaction terms between husbands’ and wives’ education that control for the association in the educational characteristics of spouses that do not differ by individual and community-level migration. Therefore, we first estimate homogamy and crossings models in which we leave out the interaction terms between husbands’ and wives’ education. The parameter estimates obtained in these models provide the odds of homogamy/crossing for the reference category as well as the main effects for the other categories of community-level migration or couple migration status. We then estimate interaction terms between homogamy/crossings and migration experiences using models that include the interaction between husbands’ and wives’ education. These interaction terms are then combined with the main effect terms to obtain the odds of homogamy/crossing for the other categories.

  11. 11.

    To ensure that variation in assortative mating patterns is not the artifact of socioeconomic differentials in communities with distinct levels of migration, we conducted supplementary analyses in which rural/urban status of the community is a dimension of the log-linear models. The net association between community-level migration and educational assortative mating is at least as strong as when rural/urban status is not controlled.

  12. 12.

    Tables and figures that summarize these results are available from the authors on request.


  1. Agresti, A. (2002). Categorical data analysis. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley and Sons.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  2. Angoa Perez, M., & Fuentes Flores, A. (2006, April). Labor force patterns of Mexican women in Mexico and the U.S.: What changes and remains. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Population Association of America, Los Angeles, CA.

  3. Batalova, J. (2008, April). Mexican immigrants to the U.S. Migration Information Source. Washington, DC: Migration Policy Institute. Retrieved from

  4. Castro Martin, T. (2002). Consensual unions in Latin America: Persistence of a dual nuptiality system. Journal of Comparative Family Studies, 33, 35–55.

    Google Scholar 

  5. Cerrutti, M., & Massey, D. (2001). On the auspices of female migration from Mexico to the United States. Demography, 38, 187–200.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Choi, K. (2011, April). Mexican migration and its effect on the union formation patterns of women in sending communities. Presented at the annual meeting of the Population Association of America, Los Angeles, CA.

  7. Clogg, C. C., & Eliason, S. R. (1988). Some common problems in log-linear analysis. Sociological Methods & Research, 16, 8–44.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Curran, S., & Rivero-Fuentes, E. (2003). Engendering migrant networks: The case of Mexican migration. Demography, 40, 289–307.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Donato, K. (1993). Current trends and patterns of female migration: Evidence from Mexico. International Migration Review, 27, 748–771.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Durand, J., Massey, D., & Zenteno, R. (2001). Mexican immigration to the United States: Continuities and changes. Latin American Research Review, 36, 107–127.

    Google Scholar 

  11. Esteve, A. (2005). Tendencias en homogamia educacional en Mexico: 1970–2000 [Trends in educational assortative mating in Mexico from 1970–2000]. Estudios Demograficos y Urbanos, 59, 341–361.

    Google Scholar 

  12. Esteve, A. P., & McCAA, R. (2006). Educational homogamy of Mexicans in Mexico and in the USA: What difference does gender, generation, ethnicity, and educational attainment make in marriage patterns? Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Population Association of America, Los Angeles, CA.

  13. Feliciano, C. (2005). Educational selectivity in U.S. immigration: How do immigrants compare to those left behind? Demography, 41, 151–171.

    Google Scholar 

  14. Frank, R., & Wildsmith, E. (2005). The grass of Mexico: Migration and union dissolution in a binational context. Social Forces, 83, 919–947.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Hondagneu-Sotelo, P. (1994). Gendered transitions: Mexican experiences in immigration. Los Angeles: University of California Press.

    Google Scholar 

  16. Instituto Nacional de Estadística Geográfica e Informática (INEGI). (2002). XII Censo General de Poblacion y Vivienda. Suplemento de Migraciớn. Retrieved from

  17. Kanaiaupuni, S. (2000). Reframing the migration question: An analysis of men, women, and gender in Mexico. Social Forces, 78, 1311–1347.

    Google Scholar 

  18. Lewis, S., & Oppenheimer, V. (2000). Educational assortative mating across marriage markets: Non-Hispanic whites in the United States. Demography, 37, 29–40.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Lichter, D., Anderson, R., & Hayward, M. (1995). Marriage markets and marital choice. Journal of Family Issues, 16, 412–431.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Marcelli, E., & Cornelius, W. (2001). The changing profile of Mexican migrants to the United States: New evidence from California and Mexico. Latin American Research Review, 36(3), 105–131.

    Google Scholar 

  21. Mare, R. D. (1991). Five decades of educational assortative mating. American Sociological Review, 56, 15–32.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Mare, R. (2008). Educational assortative mating in two generations (Working paper). Los Angeles: Department of Sociology, University of California–Los Angeles. Retrieved from

  23. Mare, R. D., & Schwartz, C. R. (2006). Educational assortative mating and the family background of the next generation: A formal analysis. Riron to Hoho [Sociological Theory and Methods], 21, 253–277.

    Google Scholar 

  24. Massey, D., & Espinosa, K. (1997). What’s driving Mexico-U.S. migration? A theoretical, empirical, and policy analysis. American Journal of Sociology, 102, 939–999.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Minnesota Population Center. (2007). Integrated public use microdata series—International: Version 3.0. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota. Retrieved from

  26. Parrado, E. (2004). International migration and men’s marriage in western Mexico. Journal of Comparative Family Studies, 35, 51–75.

    Google Scholar 

  27. Parrado, E., & Zenteno, R. (2002). Gender differences in union formation in Mexico: Evidence from marital search models. Journal of Marriage and Family, 64, 756–773.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Qian, Z. (1997). Breaking the racial barriers: Variations in interracial marriage between 1980 and 1990. Demography, 34, 478–500.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. Qian, Z., & Lichter, D. (2007). Social boundaries and marital assimilation: Interpreting trends in racial and ethnic intermarriage. American Sociological Review, 72, 68–94.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. Qian, Z., & Preston, S. (1993). Changes in American marriage, 1972 to 1987: Availability and forces of attraction by age and education. American Sociological Review, 58, 482–495.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  31. Raftery, A. (1995). Bayesian model selection in social research. Sociological Methodology, 25, 111–163.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. Riosmena, F. (2005, April). Unraveling the life course: Marriage, family, and U.S. migration in Mexico. Presented at the annual meeting of the Population Association of America, Philadelphia, PA.

  33. Ruggles, S., Sobek, M., Alexander, T., Fitch, C., Goeken, R., Hall, P., . . . Ronnander, C. (2004). Integrated Public Use Microdata Series: Version 3.0 (04/11/07 version) [Machine-readable database]. Minneapolis, MN: Minnesota Population Center [producer and distributor]. Retrieved from

  34. Schwartz, C. R., & Mare, R. D. (2005). Trends in educational assortative mating from 1940 to 2004. Demography, 42, 621–646.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  35. Sweeney, M. M. (2002). Two decades of family change: The shifting economic foundations of marriage. American Sociological Review, 67, 132–147.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  36. Villarreal, A. (2002). Political competition and violence in Mexico: Hierarchical Social control in local patronage structures. American Sociological Review, 67, 477–498.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references


This research used the facilities of the California Center for Population Research, which is supported by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. A previous version of this paper was presented at the 2007 annual meeting of the Population Association of America in New York. The authors thank Christine Schwartz, Esther Friedman, Pamela Stoddard, and JenjiraYahirun for their helpful comments.

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to Kate H. Choi.



Table 8 Percentage distribution of husband’s and wife’s education, by community-level migration and country of residence

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Choi, K.H., Mare, R.D. International Migration and Educational Assortative Mating in Mexico and the United States. Demography 49, 449–476 (2012).

Download citation


  • International migration
  • Marriage
  • Educational assortative mating