Migration and parental absence: A comparative assessment of transnational families in Latin America

Jack DeWaard, Jenna Nobles, Katharine M. Donato

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10 Scopus citations


Despite growing research on transnational families and children's welfare in migrant-sending countries, there is a dearth of information about the prevalence of, what we call, parental absence via migration, especially relative to other sources of parental absence, and a lack of estimates that are comparable across populations and places. This makes it difficult to determine the scale for policy interventions and to justify future research on transnational families and children's welfare. Using harmonised surveys covering eight Latin American countries and Puerto Rico, validated by nationally representative census and survey data, we provide the first estimates of the prevalence parental absence via migration that are comparable across populations in contemporary Latin America. We show that between 7% and 21% of children live in transnational families where parents are absent because of migration. We compare our estimates to similar estimates of parental absence from other sources and show that, in several populations, more children are experiencing parental absence due to migration than to union dissolution or parental mortality. Finally, we link our descriptive work to children's welfare by examining the characteristics of children's home environments when parents migrate. Children living in families with absent parents due to migration are less likely to coreside with extended family members and to fare better in terms of household assets, relative to children living in other family forms. We conclude by highlighting the limitations of the data, and underscore the value of attempts to estimate the prevalence of parental absence via migration.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2166
JournalPopulation, Space and Place
Issue number7
StatePublished - Oct 2018

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was supported by NIH center grant P2C HD041023 awarded to the Minnesota Population Center at the University of Minnesota and center and training grants P2C HD047873 and T32 HD07014 awarded to the Center for Demography and Ecology at the University of Wisconsin‐Madison by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, and by support to Donato from the from the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. An earlier version of this paper was presented at the annual meetings of the American Sociological Association on August 15, 2017, and the Population Association of America on April 29, 2017. The authors thank Juho Härkönen, Margot Jackson, David FitzGerald, Valentina Mazzucato, Bilisuma Dito, Clara Mulder, and two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments.

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright © 2018 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.


  • Latin America
  • children's living arrangements
  • children's welfare
  • migration
  • parental absence
  • transnational


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