, Volume 52, Issue 5, pp 1573–1600 | Cite as

Gender, Power, and Emigration From Mexico

  • Jenna NoblesEmail author
  • Christopher McKelvey


The prevailing model of migration in developing countries conceives of a risk-diversifying household in which members act as a single entity when making migration decisions. Ethnographic studies challenge this model by documenting gender hierarchy in family decisions and arguing that, in many contexts, men and women have differing views on the value of migration. We assess these perspectives using longitudinal survey data from Mexico. We show that Mexican households are heterogeneous in terms of women’s decision-making authority and control over resources, and this variation predicts the subsequent emigration of their male partners to the United States. We then use data from a policy experiment to demonstrate that an exogenous increase in a woman’s control over household resources decreases the probability that her spouse migrates. Our findings support the presence of important gender differences in how migration is valued. They also suggest that women’s role in these decisions is inadvertently underrepresented in studies of migrant families. Staying is also a migration decision, and it is more likely in homes in which women have greater authority. From a policy perspective, the results suggest that Mexican migration is influenced not only by increases in household resources but also by which members of the household control them.


Migration Gender Bargaining power NELM Mexico 



The authors are grateful for conversations about this research with Hector Conroy, Myra Marx Ferree, Elizabeth Frankenberg, Amar Hamoudi, Jennifer Johnson-Hanks, Nathan Jones, Sara Curran, Néstor Rodríguez, Christine Schwartz, Duncan Thomas, and participants in seminars at the University of Michigan, the University of Pennsylvania, and Duke University. Funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Center for Demography and Ecology at Wisconsin are gratefully acknowledged. All errors and opinions are those of the authors.

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Copyright information

© Population Association of America 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of SociologyUniversity of Wisconsin–MadisonMadisonUSA
  2. 2.Department of EconomicsUniversity of Wisconsin–MadisonMadisonUSA

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