Barely Subsisting, Surviving, Or Thriving: How Parents' Legal Status and Gender Shape the Economic and Emotional Well-being of Salvadoran Transnational Families

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University of California, Los Angeles, 2008 - Children of foreign workers - 422 pages
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Researchers of transnational families (e.g., Dreby, Hondagneu-Sotelo, Parrenas, Schmalzbauer) examine emotional costs, parenting practices, and survival strategies across borders, but few systematically analyze the factors shaping variability in these families' economic and emotional experiences. Based on 130 in-depth interviews with Salvadoran migrants in the United States and children of migrants in El Salvador, I find that despite tremendous emotional costs - particularly for mother-away families - some families are thriving economically and emotionally while others are only barely subsisting. I argue that the differences between transnational families who are barely subsisting and those who are thriving can be explained largely as a result of migrants' legal status and gender. Although legal status plays an intuitive role in these families' lives - that is, the greater legal protections migrants have, the greater their chances to fulfill their families' economic and emotional needs - the role of gender is much more complicated as it determines not only the labor market opportunities available to migrant mothers and fathers, but also the parenting approaches that guide remitting behaviors and children's expectations. Thus, the effects of legal status are even more far-reaching than currently suggested in the literature because they determine the life chances of both migrants and their families in the home country. Moreover, although gendered structural constraints create immense labor market and wage disadvantages for women, mother-away families fare better than father-away families economically because migrant parents' actions are powerfully informed by gendered norms and cultural expectations.

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