Women's partnership transitions and well-being in Mexico


Dr. Kammi Schmeer, Department of Sociology
Rank at time of award: Assistant Professor

Dr. Reanne Frank, Department of Sociology
Rank at time of award: Assistant Professor


The objective of this study is to assess how women's partnership status and transitions affect their health and socioeconomic status in the context of Mexico. We consider partnerships broadly to include marital and nonmarital unions, and assess multiple transition types. In doing so, we contribute to family demography and health research by identifying whether Mexican women benefit from formal marriage compared with other types of unions; and, which types of transitions may be particularly beneficial or harmful to women's well­being.
Our proposal will expand on the existing literature that examines the relationship between partnership status and health and well-being in several important ways.  First, we will focus on health and socioeconomic outcomes for women. Existing research highlights important gender differences in the effects of union status and transitions on individual well-being (Williams and Umberson 2004; Zhang 2006). Women may be particularly disadvantaged  by certain partnership statuses and status transitions in developing countries contexts where they have lower social status, income earnings, and more parenting responsibilities than men (CONAPO 2000; Filgueria and Peri 2004). Further, women may experience more transitions (such as widowhood and marital separation) due to higher male mortality and migration patterns (Nobles 2006). Although understanding the determinants of women's well-being (e.g., health, socioeconomic and fertility status) is important in and of itself, it also provides insight into the potential risks to infant and child health, as these women become pregnant, give birth, and care for their children.
Second, we will consider a broad array of partnership status categories, including cohabitation and women with absent husbands, assessed longitudinally. This provides us the opportunity to compare women's well-being for different types of transitions, including moving into and out of marriage, into and out of cohabitation, spouse separation, divorce, and widowhood. Recent studies have found important effects of union transitions on health (Williams 2004; Zhang 2006); however, with a focus on marriage, the existing research has not given sufficient attention to how nonmarital transitions (e.g. into and out of cohabitation) may affect well­ being, and whether these effects are uniform across social groups and cultural contexts. We will focus on prospective change in partnership status to assess how transitions among partnership states may affect women's health and well-being, accounting for potential selectivity. One of the few previous studies examining nonmarital transitions found that, even with selection effects differenced out, transitions out of cohabitation were generally found to decrease mental health for women (Wu and Hart 2002). Given the limited research in this area, it is not yet clear which dimensions of well-being are affected by which partnership transitions, particularly for women living in less developed countries.
Third, we will consider how the relationships of interest may differ for women of different social groups. U.S. research suggests that the effects of marriage and marital dissolution may depend on life course stage (Williams and Umberson 2004; Zhang 2006), parenting status (Williams and Dunne-Bryant 2005), the particular transition experienced (Williams 2004), race/ethnicity (Williams, Takeuchi, and Adair 1992), and social class (Lichter, Graefe, and Brown 2003). For example, as has been suggested in the U.S. context, women in minority and lower social class groups may benefit less from formal marriage. This idea has not been  adequately assessed in terms of how different types of partnership states and transitions may affect women of distinct social status groups.
Finally, we will focus on the social context of Mexico. Although many contemporary societies have experienced the aforementioned transformations in family life, existing literature has been restricted largely to the cases of the U.S. and Western Europe.  Whether similar demographic trends occurring in a developing country context may alter the relationship between partnership status/transitions and health and well-being is unknown.  Furthermore, Mexico provides a setting where cohabitation (consensual unions) and women living with absent spouses (due to migration) is relatively high and will provide important comparison groups to those formally married (Frank and Wildsmith 2005; Nobles 2006).   Answering these research questions in Mexico will not only provide insight into women's positions in Mexico but also shed light on the U.S. context by determining which patterns are subject to local conditions or, alternatively, are more universal processes. Given that Mexican women influence U.S. demographic and social structures through fertility (Mexican-Origin women have the highest fertility rate in the U.S.) and migration, understanding the effects of partnership processes on Mexican women's well-being is also relevant for U.S. family and health research.

Publications resulting from this seed grant  

2015. Kroeger, Rhiannon, Reanne Frank and Kammi Schmeer.  Educational Attainment and Timing to First Union across Three Generations of Mexican WomenPopulation Research and Policy Review. 34(3): 417-435. PMCID: PMC4437640

2013. Schmeer, Kammi K.  Family Structure and Child Anemia in Mexico. Social Science & Medicine, 95: 16-23.

2012. Schmeer, Kammi K.  Union Transitions and Changes in Adult BMI in Mexico. Journal of Health and Social Behavior,  53(2):263-275. PMCID: PMC3638789  PMCID: PMC3638789 38789 PMCPMCID: PMC3638789  

2012. Schmeer, Kammi K.    Early Childhood Economic Hardship and the Health of Children Born to Hispanic Mothers. Social Science & Medicine, 75(8): 1523-1530. PMID: 22818489.

2011. Schmeer, Kammi K. & Rhiannon A. Kroeger. Union Type and Depressive Symptoms Among Mexican Adults. Journal of Family Issues, 32 (4): 1597-1621. PMCID: PMC3401039