Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Parental Migration and Education of Left-Behind Children: A Comparison of Two Settings

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Parental Migration and Education of Left-Behind Children: A Comparison of Two Settings

Article excerpt

Recent estimates have indicated that approxi- mately 214 million people in developing nations now live outside their home country (United Nations, 2009). Internal (within-country) migra- tion occurs at even higher rates, although the scale is difficult to accurately determine (Inter- national Organization for Migration, 2005). Large-scale migration has both economic and social implications, because it often leads to major transformations in family life and dynam- ics. As a result, children in developing countries have been increasingly affected by migra- tion (UNICEF, 2007). Whereas some children migrate with their parents, the associated costs and risks of migration necessitate that many be left behind by one or both parents, who go out for work hoping to improve their children's standard of living.

As a consequence, in developing countries today an increasing number of children grow up with one or no parents (UNICEF, 2007). Unlike in developed societies, such situations largely arise from labor out-migration of par- ents. Parental migration constitutes a distinct form of parent-child separation in that it simul- taneously generates economic benefits and associated social costs (Dreby, 2010; McKen- zie, 2005). A close investigation of the role of parental migration for children's education will contribute to our understanding of how varied family structures in developing countries can be and how new forms of family shape children's well-being.

The importance of this topic has generated much debate on the overall net effect of parental migration on children in a wide variety of national contexts. Previous research, mostly based on a single setting, has reported a positive, negative, or neutral relationship between migra- tion and children's education (Adams, Cue- cuecha, & Page, 2008; Arguillas & Williams, 2010; McKenzie & Rapoport, 2006). Such dis- crepancies underscore the importance of devel- oping a contextualized understanding and point researchers to a direction for identifying the con- ditions under which children benefit or suffer from parental out-migration. A comparative per- spective is particularly helpful in these respects because it specifies different conditions in which to examine the role of migration. To the extent that the role of parental migration plays out sim- ilarly across context, the comparisons facilitate the development of generalizations that can help us more broadly interpret the consequences of out-migration for children. Also important is that a comparative study allows for the identification of differences in the role of parental migration across settings and the development of a better understanding of how the relative balance of the positive and negative processes associated with migration may shift depending on context.

To this end, in this study I first compared chil- dren left behind by internal migrants and inter- national migrants and examined how each group fared relative to children not left behind in each study setting. Previous studies have suggested that internal and international migration are alternative strategies in response to broad social and economic forces and can be studied under a unified framework (Pryor, 1981). Despite some broad similarities, they entail different levels of family disruption and economic return. This may lead to different ramifications for children.

This study also provides a cross-country comparison of Mexico and Indonesia. These two countries were selected for several reasons. They share broad similarities as developing countries, and both experience large-scale inter- nal and international migration (Hugo, 2005; Mishra, 2007), which yielded sufficient num- bers of left-behind children for the analysis. The two countries differ in potentially important ways, however-for example, in terms of the level of socioeconomic development and the availability of educational resources (World Bank, 2005)-that could affect the link between parental migration and children's education. …

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