Migration and Father Absence: Shifting Family Structure in Mexico

Abstract

Despite many changing demographic processes in Mexico—declining adult mortality, rising divorce, and rising nonmarital fertility—Mexican children’s family structure has been most affected by rising migration rates. Data from five national surveys spanning three decades demonstrate that since 1976, migration has shifted from the least common to the most common form of father household absence. Presently, more than 1 in 5 children experience a father’s migration by age 15; 1 in 11 experiences his departure to the United States. The proportions are significantly higher among those children born in rural communities and those born to less-educated mothers. The findings emphasize the importance of framing migration as a family process with implications for children’s living arrangements and attendant well-being, particularly in resource-constrained countries. The stability of children’s family life in these regions constitutes a substantial but poorly measured cost of worldwide increases in migration.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Research emphasizes the difficulty faced by Mexican children who mourn the departure of parents and who must renegotiate relationships with changing authority figures; parents’ return is often equally complex (Dreby 2010; Falicov 2007; Kanaiaupuni 2000).

  2. 2.

    More than 99 % of Mexican emigration is to the United States. Absent fathers not in the United States are almost certainly living in Mexico. The majority of domestic migrants move within states. In the MxFLS, 72 % of adult men migrating between 2002 and 2005 crossed municipality boundaries; 43 % crossed state boundaries. Relative to adult male migrants without children, migrant fathers were significantly more likely to migrate within the state.

  3. 3.

    Because the MxFLS asks about marital/union dissolution and separation, the approach is not misclassifying dissolving unions as domestic migration. Further details on paternity assignment and the classification of fathers as migrants are available in Online Resource 1.

  4. 4.

    Mexican educational attainment has increased sufficiently to warrant distinctions beyond secondary schooling. Among mothers of these children, however, less than 15 % advanced to high school, and 5 % completed college, providing insufficient data support for separate life tables.

  5. 5.

    Suro (2005), for example, found that 12 % of the stock of migrants seeking IDs at Mexican consulates in the United States have children in another country. Other treatments of family arrangements focus exclusively on children living in the United States (e.g., Passel 2006).

  6. 6.

    These percentages include those who had returned by 2005.

  7. 7.

    The average number of children ever born to single women increased from 0.1 to 0.3 between 1970 and 2010; the divorce rate increased from 4.4 in 100 to 15 in 100 between 1980 and 2009 (Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Geografía INEGI 2011).

  8. 8.

    Estimates are obtained by multiplying the probability of a father’s departure among children born into two-parent homes (Table 2) by the proportion born into a two-parent home and adding it to the proportion born to migrating fathers.

  9. 9.

    However, separately examining children in the most-educated homes, with relatively low rates of U.S. emigration (McKenzie and Rapoport 2010), would likely reveal meaningful differences.

  10. 10.

    For example, one quarter of school-aged children in the Mixteca region of Oaxaca had an emigrant parent in 2005 (Dreby and Stutz 2012).

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Acknowledgements

The author is grateful for comments from Elizabeth Frankenberg, Duncan Thomas, Rob Mare, Rubén Hernandez-León, Christine Schwartz, Wendy Sigle-Rushton, Katharine Donato, Amar Hamoudi, and Sheila G. Miller as well as for excellent research assistance from Hillary Caruthers. The author gratefully acknowledges funding from the National Science Foundation, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and support from the Center for Demography and Ecology at the University of Wisconsin. All errors and opinions are those of the author.

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Correspondence to Jenna Nobles.

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Nobles, J. Migration and Father Absence: Shifting Family Structure in Mexico. Demography 50, 1303–1314 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13524-012-0187-8

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Keywords

  • Migration
  • Children’s living arrangements
  • Mexican families