Migration and the Transformation of Gender Roles and Hierarchies in Yucatan


Bever, Sandra Weinstein. 2002. "Migration and the Transformation of Gender Roles and Hierarchies in Yucatan." Urban Anthropology and Studies of Cultural Systems and World Economic Development 31 (2): 199-230.

Author: Sandra Weinstein Bever


This study explores how gender relations and gender roles have been modified as a result of temporary male outmigration in a Yucatec Maya community. To understand the changes in gender relations brought about by migration the author provides a comparative analysis between migrant and non-migrant households. Moreover, the author examines intra-household gender relations and reveals how gender roles and gender ideologies are contested, reinforced and renegotiated in migrant and non-migrant households. One way to explore intra-household relations is by documenting the extent of control that men and women have over household expenses. A closer look at patterns of income allocation within migrant and non-migrant households illustrates how husbands and wives negotiate decision-making in the household and how intra-household gender hierarchies are established.  The findings suggest that while there may be obvious transformations in gender roles, gender ideology continues to be strongly defended by both men and women in this Yucatec Maya community.

Keywords: migration, gender transformation


  • In her article, Bever argues that male outmigration impacts intra-household gender roles in the Yucatec Maya community of Sudzal, in which migration activity generates 43% of the city’s income. She looks at data from 1997-1998 from both migrant and non-migrant households in order to gather information on their comparative household decision-making, gender roles, gender ideology, and gender relations.
  • In Maya communities, men are seen as the primary economic provider in the household. Because of the high levels of labor migration among men today, however, women have begun to enter the workforce in order to supplement their husbands’ income. The increase in women’s involvement in the labor force has led to a shift in gender roles that conflicts with traditional gender ideology. In her study, Bever finds that the division of labor among husbands and wives is much more equal in migrant households than non-migrant households. The majority of wives in both migrant and non-migrant households maintain, however, that their husbands’ work is the most important economic activity.
  • In her section entitled “Patterns of income allocation in migrant and non-migrant households,” Bever assesses the socioeconomic impact of temporary labor migration on the household and on gender relations. She distinguishes between “pooling households,” in which the incomes of husbands and wives are combined and the husbands control the family’s budget, and non-pooling households, in which the husband’s earnings are the sole contribution to the household’s budget. While women do contribute financially to the household in these pooling households, traditional gender ideologies still prevent women from realizing their roles as household providers. Generally, women who decide to earn an income without their husbands’ consent do so out of desperation, and this oftentimes creates tension in these husband-wife relationships, as they are seen as challenging their husbands’ authority.
  • Bever turns to a comparison between women in migrant and non-migrant households, arguing that while women in migrant households have more of an opportunity (and necessity) to enter the workforce and provide for their families, oftentimes, they would rather fulfill the role of caretaker and housewife than produce an income. She also finds that young migrant wives feel more pressure to obey their husbands and stay at home than do older migrant wives since they have not yet earned the respect of their husbands and they rely on their husbands to provide enough financially for their children. This supports her argument that when women do challenge their husband’s economic authority, it is usually out of pragmatism and necessity rather than a desire to change gender ideologies. Bever concludes that while the gender roles of Yucatec Mayan women are changing, traditional gender ideology continues to be upheld.

Topics: Displacement & Migration, Migration, Gender, Gender Roles, Gendered Power Relations, Gender Hierarchies Regions: Americas, North America Countries: Mexico

Year: 2002

© 2023 CONSORTIUM ON GENDER, SECURITY & HUMAN RIGHTSLEGAL STATEMENT All photographs used on this site, and any materials posted on it, are the property of their respective owners, and are used by permission. Photographs: The images used on the site may not be downloaded, used, or reproduced in any way without the permission of the owner of the image. Materials: Visitors to the site are welcome to peruse the materials posted for their own research or for educational purposes. These materials, whether the property of the Consortium or of another, may only be reproduced with the permission of the owner of the material. This website contains copyrighted materials. The Consortium believes that any use of copyrighted material on this site is both permissive and in accordance with the Fair Use doctrine of 17 U.S.C. § 107. If, however, you believe that your intellectual property rights have been violated, please contact the Consortium at info@genderandsecurity.org.