Rush to the Border? Market Liberalization and Urban- and Rural-Origin Internal Migration in Mexico

Erin R. Hamilton and Andrés Villarreal
Published in
Social Science Research, Volume 41 (2012), 1275-1291

In this study we examine the social and economic factors driving internal migration flows in Mexico. We pay particular attention to the effect that economic liberalization has had in encouraging migration to border cities. Our analysis of the origin and destination of migrants is carried out at a finer level of geographical detail than ever before. Microdata files from the 2000 population census allow us to distinguish urban- and rural-origin migrants to the largest 115 cities and metropolitan areas in the country. Our results indicate that economic liberalization, measured by the level of foreign investment and employment in the maquiladora export industry, strongly influences migrants' choice of destinations. However, economic liberalization fails to fully account for the attraction of the border, as do the higher emigration rates to the United States from border cities. Our analysis also reveals that migrants to the border region and to cities with high levels of foreign investment are younger, less educated and more likely to be men than migrants to other parts of Mexico. Rural migrants are significantly more likely to move to the border and to cities with high levels of foreign investment than urban migrants. The results of our study have important implication for other countries opening their economies to foreign investment and international trade.