Leaving family for work: ambivalence and mental health among Mexican migrant farmworker men

J Immigr Minor Health. 2006 Jan;8(1):85-97. doi: 10.1007/s10903-006-6344-7.


Men migrating to the United States from Mexico and Central America confront opposing family norms. They need to leave their families to gain family economic security; yet, leaving renders their families vulnerable. We examined the mental health implications of the opposing family norms inherent in migration using an ambivalence framework. We interviewed 60 Latino migrant farmworkers working in North Carolina. Most were from Mexico; each had left a wife and children in his country of origin. Analysis indicated that family ambivalence was common. Ambivalence was associated with anxiety symptoms (but not depression or alcohol dependence), especially among men who were unable to contact their families regularly. Results show the usefulness of the ambivalence framework, and suggest that the origins of poor migrant mental health may reside in circumstances preceding migration. Study recommendations include facilitating family contact by expanding access to telephones among migrant workers.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Evaluation Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Agriculture*
  • Alcoholism / diagnosis
  • Alcoholism / etiology*
  • Anxiety Disorders / diagnosis
  • Anxiety Disorders / etiology*
  • Data Collection
  • Data Interpretation, Statistical
  • Depression / diagnosis
  • Depression / etiology*
  • Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders
  • Education
  • Family*
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Male
  • Marital Status
  • Mental Health*
  • Mexico / ethnology
  • North Carolina
  • Sampling Studies
  • Transients and Migrants* / psychology
  • Young Adult