Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Parenting from Abroad: Migration, Nonresident Father Involvement, and Children's Education in Mexico

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Parenting from Abroad: Migration, Nonresident Father Involvement, and Children's Education in Mexico

Article excerpt

In Mexico, a country with high emigration rates, parental migration matches divorce as a contributor to child - father separation. Yet little has been written about children's relationships with migrating parents. In this study, I use nationally representative data from the 2005 Mexican Family Life Survey to model variation in the interaction between 739 children in Mexico and their nonresident fathers. I demonstrate that, from the perspective of sending households, parental migration and parental divorce are substantively distinct experiences. Despite considerable geographic separation, Mexican children have significantly more interaction with migrating fathers than they do with fathers who have left their homes following divorce. Further, ties with migrant fathers are positively correlated with schooling outcomes, which potentially mitigates the observed education costs of family separation.

Key Words: father -child relations, immigration, living arrangements, migrant families.

Fathers who live apart from children often remain actively engaged in their children's lives. Numerous studies have demonstrated that this involvement has meaningful implications for children's well-being (Amato & Gilbreth, 1999; Carlson, 2006; King & Sobolewski, 2006; Madhavan, Townsend, & Garey, 2008). This body of research has proved to be important by contextualizing the well-known worldwide decline in child -father coresidence (Brown, Larson, & Saraswathi, 2002). Yet despite the breadth of research on nonresident parenting, most studies have described families shaped by divorce and nonmarital fertility. We know little about the parenting behaviors of a growing group of nonresident fathers - men who are separated from children in the process of labor migration.

This study examines the contributions of migrant fathers to their children in Mexico, a setting in which parental migration is increasingly common. At the national level, 1 in 25 children has a father in the United States; 1 in 1 1 is expected to experience his migration by the age of 15 (Nobles, 2010). Although many families eventually reunite, father -child separations typically last for multiple years (Suárez-Orozco, Todorova, & Louie, 2002).

Research on the relationship between Mexican migrant fathers and their children remains nascent (Dreby, 2010; Mirande, 2008). In the place of much empirical evidence is a surprisingly resilient narrative that describes sending families as "abandoned" and "left behind" (e.g., Wright, 2006). This narrative is central to media and policy discussions (Boehm, 2008) and is so pervasive in Mexican family life (Frank & Wildsmith, 2005) that migrant parents in the United States often invoke it to describe their counterparts, regardless of their own stated commitment to children in Mexico (Dreby, 2006).

To shed light on this issue, I use data collected on a nationally representative sample of households in Mexico. I ask whether, how much, and in what ways migrant fathers remain connected to their children while in the United States. I then consider whether investments are correlated with children's schooling, an indicator widely considered to be a meaningful predictor of later-life success. As a comparison, I assess whether those patterns of investment are significantly and substantively distinct from those received by children who live apart from fathers following divorce.

This undertaking is valuable for several reasons. Although much research exists on children in receiving societies, far less is known about family experiences in the sending communities of major migration flows. Yet it is through investment in the children of sending regions that the longer term macroeconomic benefits of migration should arise (McKenzie, 2005). Given the established importance of family stability for children's well-being (e.g., Fomby & Cherlin, 2007), scholars have raised concern about the development trajectories of children in sending homes (Heymann et al. …

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