The Impact of Temporary Labor Migration on Mexican Children's Educational Aspirations and Performance1


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    Direct correspondence to William Kandel, Population Research Institute, Pennsylvania State University, 714 Oswald Tower, University Park, PA 16802, This research was supported by a dissertation fellowship from the Population Council and a field-work training grant from the Mellon Foundation. We thank David Post, Sharon Stash, Emilio Parrado, Douglas Massey, and four anonymous IMR reviewers for their many helpful comments. We would also like to thank the Facultad de Ciencias Sociales, Universidad Autonoma de Zacatecas, for administrative support in Mexico, and to Adriana Jiménez Sánchez and Magaly Eleazar Cortés of the Universidad de Guadalajara for their dedicated research assistance. An earlier draft was presented at the 1997 Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association in Toronto.


This article examines how temporary U.S. labor migration by family members and by students affects the educational aspirations and performance of those same students growing up in Mexican migrant communities. Labor migration affects these children in two ways. First it brings remitted U.S. earnings into the household which allows parents to provide more education for their children and reduce the need for children's labor. Higher incomes are also associated with numerous factors that improve the general well-being of children, as reflected in various indicators including higher school grades. Labor migration also has negative impacts on children. In addition to family stress and behavioral problems with adolescents due to parental and sibling absence, migration provides an example of an alternative route to economic mobility. Children growing up in migrant households have access to information and social networks that reduce their likelihood of migration failure should they choose this alternative to the Mexican labor market. We analyze a unique data set from a stratified random sample of 7600 grammar, junior high, and high school-level students in a state capital, a large town, and 25 rural communities in a Mexican migrant-sending state. We find that high levels of U.S. migration are associated with lower aspirations to attend a university at all academic levels. We find, however, a positive relationship between U.S. migration and grades. We conclude that while U.S. migration provides financial benefits that allow children to continue schooling and perform well, it may also reduce the motivation to attain above-average years of schooling.