Migration and the Pursuit of Education in Southern Mexico

Valentine, Jessa Lewis, Bradford Barham, Seth Gitter, and Jenna Nobles
Working paper no. 2014-10


Rising educational expectations and shifting migration trends in Mexico have reshaped work, schooling, and mobility opportunities in rural communities. We study the effect of community-level contextual changes on adolescent school and migration behavior using survey and focus group data from a random sample of 845 households in Southern Mexico. We make four arguments. First, regional work opportunities factor into education decisions at an early age; youth are socialized toward migration opportunities and actively consider these options as they make plans for the future. Second, though education and migration are increasingly portrayed as substitutes, our data suggest that migration is now an important complement to education pursuits. Third, decisions about schooling and migration operate, in part, through resources and information provided by community and household-level migration networks. Fourth, the effects of these migration networks are gendered. Domestic migration networks are more relevant to female adolescent schooling and migration if composed of female migrants – and vice versa for males. The domestic migration network tends to increase internal migration and school attainment locally along same-gender lines. The gender of the network matters too for U.S. migration. U.S. female networks increase schooling outcomes, especially for boys, while male U.S. migration networks depress schooling and increase migration for male youths. We conclude that the relationship between migration, schooling, and economic development are changing quickly in parts of rural Mexico and must be understood in the context of gendered opportunities at the local level.