Income and occupational mobility of Mexican migrants to the United States

Joachim Singelmann, University of Texas at San Antonio
Gabriela Sanchez-Soto, University of Texas at San Antonio
Silvia Mejia Arango, El Colegio de la Frontera Norte

This paper compares the pre-to-post migration income and occupational mobility experience of Mexican heads of household and their spouses who migrated to the United States after 1965 (the end of the Bracero program). Building on recent work about occupational trajectories in Europe, we first provide an overview of the occupational distribution of migrants regarding their last occupation in Mexico and first occupation in the United States, and we review characteristics of migrants that were found to have influenced mobility in different contexts (e.g., age, education, documentation status, marital status). Given changes in Mexican states of origin and U.S. states of destination, we include information about key out- and in-migration states in our analysis. We further distinguish between the period after the end of the Bracero program (1965-1985) and the period after the passing of IRCA (1986-2012). Our data come from the Mexican Migration Project (MMP). We report our descriptive and analytical results separately for males and females and discuss differences between them. Overall, comparing both the last job in Mexico and the first job in the United States as well as the first U.S. job with the most recent job in the United States, relative to staying in the same occupational category, male migrants were far more likely to experience upward mobility than were females, but they were also slightly more likely to be downwardly mobile. Our models show substantial differences in the determinants of mobility for males and females. While a large proportion of migrants experienced lateral or downward occupational mobility, many are likely to have experienced increases in income. Income increases helps us understand why migrants remain in the U.S. even if they are downwardly mobile in terms of occupation. The paper concludes with a discussion of context in which occupational and earnings mobility of migrants occurs.

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Presented in Session 113: Migration and labor market integration