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

Jack DeWaard, Jenna Nobles, Katharine M. Donato - Population, Space and Place


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.


This article is part of the Special Issue of Population, Space and Place on Transnational Families