The Economic Benefits of Domestica Employment: The Case of Mexicans in the United States

By Sáenz, Rogelio; Douglas, Karen Manges | The Journal of Latino - Latin American Studies, Fall-Spring 2009 | Go to article overview

The Economic Benefits of Domestica Employment: The Case of Mexicans in the United States


Sáenz, Rogelio, Douglas, Karen Manges, The Journal of Latino - Latin American Studies


The Economic Benefits of Domestica Employment: The Case of Mexicans

Even though there have been changes in the sex composition of Mexican migration to the United States, this movement continues to be predominantly male (Donato 1993). For example, among Mexicans 16 to 44 years of age who first immigrated to the United States in the 1990-2000 period, there were 139 males for every 100 females. For many Mexican males in traditionally and emerging migrant-sending communities, it is almost a rite of passage to migrate to the United States. This movement is facilitated greatly by the numerous and strong ties that Mexican males have to relatives (e.g., fathers, uncles, cousins) and friends who have acquired migration experience and knowledge (Kandel and Massey 2002). Upon arrival in the United States, Mexican males tap their social networks to secure employment. Not surprisingly, Mexican males tend to associate and work alongside individuals that are primarily like them-other Mexican males working in similar occupations and industries. Such strong ties limit social mobility in the labor market because they have access to limited information that exists within their social network.

On the other hand, Mexican female immigrants do not have as many or as strong of ties as their male counterparts (Aguilera 2002; Martinez-Schallmoser, MacMullen, and Telleen 2005; Parrado and Flippen 2005; see also Hagan 1994, 1998; Menjivar 1997, 2000). Female immigration-particularly on an undocumented basis-is a relatively new phenomenon. Thus, given the gendered nature of social networks for navigating immigration and work, Mexican females cannot draw on well established social networks based on their relatives (e.g., mothers, aunts, and sisters) or friends as are Mexican males. Furthermore, contrary to Mexican males, Mexican females often find employment in isolated work settings where they do not work alongside co-ethnics but instead develop weak ties to a wider variation of people who do not possess similar attributes as them.

The occupation of domestica (or maid) represents such a work environment. More Mexican immigrant females work in this occupation compared to any other occupation. The 194,869 Mexican immigrant women who work as domesticas in 2000 accounted for nearly one-tenth (9.1%) of all employed Mexican immigrant women at that time. Given the large number of Mexican immigrant women working as domesticas, it is not surprising that we have seen several indepth analyses of these women (see Hondagneu-Sotelo 1994b, 1994c, 2001a, 2001b; Ibarra 2000; Maher 2004; Mattinglya 1999a, 199b; Richardson 1999; Romero 1987, 1988a, 1988b, 1992; Rosales 2001; Ruiz 1987; for research on groups besides Mexicans, see Dill 1988; Glenn 1986; Repak 1995; Rollins 1985; Salzinger 1991; Woo Morales 1993). This literature has provided an excellent overview of the personal and work lives of domesticas including a description of their work, the different job types of domesticas, their use of social networks, and their relationships with employers.

One of the key features of the work of domesticas is the work setting. Domesticas come into contact regularly with people who differ from them in a variety of ways (social class, race/ethnicity, and nativity/citizenship status). Moreover, the contact takes place in the isolation of the homes of their employers. In this setting, domesticas gain information that is not typically available to other Mexican immigrants. For example, they may learn about employment opportunities which they can relay to spouses/partners and other significant others. Thus, people who gain such information from domesticas can benefit economically indirectly through the weak ties of domesticas. While this information is instrumental in the work life of immigrants, we do not find research that has analyzed the degree to which people benefit through their associations with domesticas. This research uses data from the 2000 Public Use Microdata Sample to examine the extent to which foreign-born Mexican husbands in the United States gain economically from their wives' employment as domesticas. …

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