After Spouses Depart: Emotional Wellbeing among Nonmigrant Mexican Mothers

Type Journal Article - Social Science & Medicine
Title After Spouses Depart: Emotional Wellbeing among Nonmigrant Mexican Mothers
Volume 132
Publication (Day/Month/Year) 2016
Page numbers 236-244
Nonmigrant family members play a central role in facilitating Mexico-U.S. migration by maintaining families, sustaining social relationships, and overseeing household economic organization in sending communities. This study investigates changes to the emotional wellbeing of nonmigrant mothers when their partners reside in the United States. We hypothesize that partner migration affects mothers’ wellbeing through three pathways: directly via the toll of spousal separation, and indirectly via changes to the economic profile of the sending household and through changes to mothers’ household responsibilities. We test these relationships using data on 2,813 mothers aged 18-44 in 2002 and measured in three waves (2002, 2005, 2009) of the Mexican Family Life Survey. We employ a fixed-effect estimation strategy that improves causal attribution of women’s wellbeing to spousal residential location. We find evidence of increases in some forms of distress—sadness, crying, difficulty sleeping—when spouses are in the United States but no meaningful increase in depressive symptomology. Though partner emigration shifts several aspects of women’s lives in sending households, changes to household resources or time allocation do not account for the moderate shifts in emotional duress associated with spousal absence. Importantly, additional tests reveal that we would observe large and significant associations between spousal migration and mothers’ emotional wellbeing using a less rigorous estimation strategy, raising caution about the interpretation of cross-sectional studies evaluating wellbeing in sending homes.

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