The costs of getting ahead: Mexican family system changes after immigration

Martica L. Bacallao, Paul R. Smokowski

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

174 Scopus citations


This study explored how immigration influenced Mexican family relationships. Qualitative interviews were conducted with 12 adolescents and 14 parents from 10 undocumented Mexican families. Participants immigrated to North Carolina within the past 7 years. A conceptual model derived from the data using grounded theory methods suggested that, after immigration, parents had less time to spend with children because of demanding new jobs and mothers entering the work force. Decreased time as a family was associated with adolescents' loneliness, isolation, and risk-taking behavior. In response to perceived environmental threats, Mexican parents became authoritarian, precipitating parent-adolescent conflict. Parent-adolescent acculturation gaps were viewed as an asset as adolescents helped parents navigate within the new cultural system. Families coped with postimmigration changes by maintaining high levels of familism and enacting cultural traditions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)52-66
Number of pages15
JournalFamily Relations
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2007
Externally publishedYes


  • Acculturation
  • Familism
  • Family systems
  • Latinos
  • Migration

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)


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