Intergenerational Help and the Meaning of Extended Family Residence among Elders in Mexico

De Vos, Susan, Patricio Solís, and Verónica Montes de Oca
Working paper no. 2001-18


This paper focuses on informal instrumental help received by a nationally-representative sample of elderly Mexican men age 60 and over gathered in 1994. About half the men received in-kind or domestic assistance in the last month, while about two-fifths received financial assistance, and a little more than a quarter received physical assistance. These figures must be interpreted alongside the facts that almost half of the men were still working, over half (57%) had no discernable health limitation and roughly a quarter were still living in simple family households with one or more unmarried children.

The common assumption that living arrangements helps indicate assistance seems valid. When receipt of help was regressed on living arrangements and a number of other socioeconomic characteristics, living arrangements stayed an important predictor. Other factors stayed important too however. This suggests that help is a multidimensional concept that includes, but is not limited to coresidence. Coresidence is neither a sufficient nor even a necessary condition.

In fact, many elders who received help, received some of that help from non-coresiding relatives. Remittances were important, but we found that help from non-coresiding relatives or friends included in-kind, domestic and physical assistance as well as financial assistance. Perhaps it is time to dust off notions of a modified extended family, and in turn modify them, to help us understand the situation in Mexico. Questions about geographic distance, in addition to coresidence, could be helpful.