More women migrating to US from Mexico

June 23, 2005

HOUSTON - (June 24, 2005) -- The percentage of women migrating to the U.S. from Mexico has been increasing substantially during the past two decades, according to a study of undocumented border crossings by a sociologist and demographer at Rice University. Her research also revealed different patterns of undocumented migration for men and women.

"Compared with men, women are much less likely to cross the border without documents by themselves," said Katharine Donato, associate professor of sociology at Rice. "When they do cross, women are more likely to do so in the company of friends and family and to use the services of a paid guide, commonly known as a 'coyote.'"

Although migrants from Mexico have been coming to the U.S. for more than 100 years, most of the immigration statistics reflect only legal border crossings. "The data sources clearly show this has been a male-driven flow of migrants," Donato said.

However, as a result of the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act - the first piece of legislation designed to control undocumented migration to the U.S. - more women have migrated from Mexico.

"Before 1985, you might have had 15 or 20 percent of Mexican migrants being women," Donato said. "In the '80s and '90s most data sources suggest we're up to 35 to 45 percent women. It's not more women than men, but the gender composition of undocumented migrants from Mexico is certainly shifting in that direction."

Women tend to be older than men when they migrate. Donato found that the average age for women on their first and subsequent border-crossing trips is 29 and 39 years, respectively, compared with average ages of 27 and 33 for men. The age gap might reflect the fact that many women stay in Mexico until their husbands have successfully relocated in the U.S.; the women then reunify their families, Donato said.

Women were less likely than men to be apprehended while crossing the border without documents, perhaps because women used professional guides more than men did. The likelihood of apprehension for women was 12 percent on the first trip and 14 percent on subsequent crossings; for men the probability of apprehension was 29 percent for both first and later trips.

Women also had less accumulated migratory experience than men on any trip to the U.S.; from surveys inquiring about how many times immigrants had crossed the border previously, men averaged four previous trips, compared to only two for women.

Donato made these observations on the basis of data mined from the Mexican Migration Project and the Health and Migration Project, in collaboration with former Rice undergraduate Evelyn Patterson '02. Their findings are summarized in a chapter of the book "Crossing the Border: Research from the Mexican Migration Project," edited by Jorge Durand and Douglas Massey (2004 Russell Sage Foundation).

While the evidence suggests important differences between men and women in the process of undocumented border crossing, Donato noted that more investigators need to make a greater effort to gather border-crossing histories from female as well as male migrants.

"To date, data-collection efforts have focused almost exclusively on men," she said. "But until women are incorporated into data sets as fully as men, there will not be enough cases for the sort of multivariate analyses that have proved so useful in understanding and characterizing the process of male undocumented migration."
The Mexican Migration Project is an ongoing multidisciplinary study of Mexican migration to the U.S. that has been conducting surveys in Mexico and the U.S. since 1982. The Health and Migration Project, which Donato directs with Shawn Kanaiaupuni, of Kamehameha, Hawaii, is a binational project that collects and analyzes longitudinal data on the health consequences of Mexico-U.S. migration through surveys of 11 communities in the state of San Luis Potosi, Mexico, and two U.S. communities (see for more information).

Rice University

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