Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

"Living Together without Being Married": Perceptions of Female Adolescents in the Mexico-United States Border Region

Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

"Living Together without Being Married": Perceptions of Female Adolescents in the Mexico-United States Border Region

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

Falling in love, getting married, having children and starting a family are aspirations many young women from various cultures around the world share, including female adolescents of Mexican origin living on either side of the Mexico-United States border region. Building a family remains one of the top values in the familistic Mexican culture (Griswold del Castillo, 1 984, Ribeiro, 2009). Young people, especially women, expect to get married and have children, preferably more than one, and, as the Mexican saying goes, "begin a family as God wills." This has been the social mandate transmitted from generation to generation, although some important changes in social expectations have taken place. Getting married and having children continues to occupy a prominent place in Mexican values. However, it now competes for the younger generation's attention and time with other opportunities. Younger Mexican women now expect to study and prepare for gainful employment as men do in an increasingly globalized economy that poses greater conditions of competition for both genders. Social change has also made some conjugal arrangements such as "living together without being married" more attractive to the younger generations of Mexicans transitioning to adulthood and family formation.

Social inequality, however, limits options that young Mexican and Mexican- American women have to meet their marriage and career goals according to their particular social conditions and the corresponding array of opportunities to which they might have access. Equally as important for future outcomes are the perceptions that the young women have of their available life choices or their ability to choose or prioritize certain choices to build their own life traj ectories in education, work and family. This suggests analyzing the frame of reference that under which young women perceive they operate under to understand their potential family life choices.

Young women both consciously and unconsciously consider individual, institutional, social context, cultural, and gender factors when taking life choices. However, some factors correspond closer to the overall social structure and demographic conditions rather than to the individual. The demographic transition theory specifies that private matters such as establishing a conjugal union, childbearing and family building are strongly influenced by the developmental level of society (Lesthaeghe, 1998). This study seeks to identify the social factors affecting how female adolescents perceive the advantages and disadvantages of "living together without being married" combined with how the girls view education and work during their transition to adulthood and family formation. Concretely, we analyze the case of working class Mexican-origin female students from public high schools living on both sides of the Mexico-United States border. Comparative analysis of countries with different developmental levels such as Mexico and the United States provides the opportunity to examine important societal structure factors influencing perceptions young women have about this important personal matter. Accordingly, the study conducts qualitative analysis using information obtained from 1 5 focus groups and 1 20 individual interviews with female students who identified themselves as Mexican-origin. The students came from five different public high schools: two high schools located in Tijuana, Mexico and from one high school each in the San Diego County, California cities of SanYsidro, National City and Chula Vista, California. All high schools are located in working class neighborhoods.

The overall hypothesis follows the demographic transition theory in that multiple social factors will shape the young women's perceptions about the idea of "living together without being married." Yet important differences exist between the two groups of Mexican origin adolescents that reside on the opposite sides of the international border-in spite of their shared Mexican family culture-that result from the unique societal structural factors of each country. …

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