Immigrant Wealth Stratification and Return Migration: The Case of Mexican Immigrants in the United States During the Twentieth Century

Demography. 2023 Jun 1;60(3):809-835. doi: 10.1215/00703370-10693686.


Considerable wealth stratification exists between U.S.-born and foreign-born populations (Campbell and Kaufman 2006), with low wealth attainment documented among Mexican immigrants (Hao 2007). High rates of Mexican return migration (Azose and Raftery 2019) suggest that nonrandom selection into return migration on wealth is a potential driver of stratification. Existing theories do not conclusively predict asset accumulation among returnees versus stayers, and empirical research on return migration and wealth stratification is scarce. Combining data from the 2000 U.S. Health and Retirement Study and the 2001 Mexican Health and Aging Study to create a novel data set representing all Mexicans aged 50 and older with a history of migration to the United States and adopting a life course perspective, I find that return migration at younger and older ages is associated with higher wealth accumulation and might be a way to maximize assets at older ages. Thus, return migration may contribute to nativity-based wealth stratification in the United States. The study's findings point to the greater financial risks for new cohorts of immigrants aging in place, suggest caution in interpreting wealth stratification as a measure of mobility, and inform theories about the links between return migration and wealth across the life course.

Keywords: Immigration; Life course; Return migration; Stratification; Wealth.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aging
  • Emigrants and Immigrants*
  • Emigration and Immigration*
  • Humans
  • Income*
  • Independent Living
  • Mexican Americans
  • Mexico
  • Middle Aged
  • United States