Migration and Father Absence: Shifting Family Structure in Mexico

Nobles, Jenna
Working paper no. 2010-15


Despite many changing demographic processes in Mexico—declining adult mortality, rising divorce, and rising nonmarital fertility—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, over one in five children experience fathers’ migration by age fifteen; one in eleven experiences his departure to the United States. The proportions are significantly higher among children born in rural communities and 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 wellbeing, 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.