Male Out-Migration And The Woman Left Behind: A Case Study Of A Small Farming Community In Southeastern Mexico

Jamie Perdue McEvoy, Utah State University

Release of work delayed for one year.


Until recently, rural households in southeastern Mexico have survived on subsistence and chili farming. But over the last decade, male out-migration to the United States has also become a popular livelihood strategy. This case study used data from semi-structured qualitative interviews to assess the effects of male out-migration on women’s lives in three areas: households’ financial and material situation, issues of infidelity and women’s vulnerability to abandonment, and the gendered division of labor.

Overall, this study found that male out-migration had both positive and negative effects on the women left behind. First, the financial outcomes of migration were mixed. A few women received large, steady remittances while the majority received minimal, sporadic remittances. These various financial outcomes had different effects on women’s lives. Second, some women experienced marital separation or abandonment, and many others feared this could happen to them. Women also experienced increased “policing” of their actions. These outcomes had a negative effect on most women by placing them in a financially precarious position and limiting their freedom and mobility. Third, women’s roles in agricultural production changed in two ways: 1) increased attendance at the monthly community meeting and 2) increased contracting and supervising of day laborers. For most women, however, their agricultural field labor participation did not increase.

Women’s new roles created a shift in gender relations, but most women said that they were more “uncomfortable” with, than empowered by, these new roles. Despite the lack of empowerment noted by the women themselves, it is important to consider that, over time, these changes in gender roles and gender relations may influence gender ideologies (e.g., perceptions of what women can and should do) and increase women’s empowerment. The contributions of these findings to the literature and policy are discussed in the conclusion.