International migration and gender in Latin America: A comparative analysis

Douglas S. Massey, Mary J. Fischer, Chiara Capoferro

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

80 Scopus citations


We review census data to assess the standing of five Latin American nations on a gender continuum ranging from patriarchal to matrifocal. We show that Mexico and Costa Rica lie close to one another with a highly patriarchal system of gender relations whereas Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic are similar in having a matrifocal system. Puerto Rico occupies a middle position, blending characteristics of both systems. These differences yield different patterns of female relative to male migration. Female householders in the two patriarchal settings displayed low rates of out-migration compared with males, whereas in the two matrifocal countries the ratio of female to male migration was much higher, in some case exceeding their male counterparts. Multivariate analyses showed that in patriarchal societies, a formal or informal union with a male dramatically lowers the odds of female out-migration, whereas in matrifocal societies marriage and cohabitation have no real effect. The most important determinants of female migration from patriarchal settings are the migrant status of the husband or partner, having relatives in the United States, and the possession of legal documents. In matrifocal settings, however, female migration is less related to the possession of documents, partner's migrant status, or having relatives in the United States and more strongly related to the woman's own migratory experience. Whereas the process of cumulative causation appears to be driven largely by men in patriarchal societies, it is women who dominate the process in matrifocal settings.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)63-91
Number of pages29
JournalInternational Migration
Issue number5
StatePublished - Dec 2006

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Demography


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