Mexican Immigration Problem Will Solve Itself

GWU economics professor Robert Dunn argues that the flood of illegal immigration from Mexico will stop of its own accord because a sharp decline in the birth rate is cutting the supply of out-of-work Mexican teenagers. More interesting still is his explanation for the trend:

Better education and improved job opportunities for women mean that it has become quite expensive for them to leave the labor force to have more children. The improved availability of birth control technology and liberalization of abortion rules in some countries mean that it is easier for women to avoid that outcome.


Another reason for the particularly sharp decline in Mexico is the cultural influence of the United States. Our xenophobic nationalists fear that we are being ‘Mexicanized.’ In fact the opposite may be underway. NAFTA, our mass media, the more widespread use of English, and the large number of people going back and forth (legally or otherwise) mean that Mexicans are increasingly influenced by our culture, and that implies fewer babies. The United States also has a fertility rate of 2.1, but that is the same as it was in 1990. Mexico is becoming more similar to the United States, which must frustrate their nationalists.

The irony is that we will ultimately pass some kind of immigration reform, even if it’s meaningless. If Dunn’s prediction turns out to be right, we’ll have politicians climbing all over themselves to proclaim that the law worked even though the law will likely have negligible impact.

FILED UNDER: Borders and Immigration, Economics and Business, Latin America, Science & Technology, , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Dave Schuler says:

    Yep. I’ve been whining at the alarmists to look at Mexican demographics for some time now. Mexico’s population trends are more like those of Europe than ours.

    One of the reasons for the phenomenon (which I didn’t find mentioned in Dr. Dunn’s article) is that, when you send as many of your young people to another country to work, guess what? They have their babies there instead of at home. Go figure. That simultaneously pushes our per capita birthrate up and Mexico’s down.

    I don’t think we should take too much solace in this. Mexico’s going to need to import workers and that will cause social stress there (and, historically, they haven’t been too good at handling stress). And businesses here which have based their strategies on an ever-increasing pool of low wage workers will either have a problem or they’ll import workers from other countries who are even more difficult to assimilate into our population than the wave of Mexican immigrants of the last 20 years has been.

  2. NoZe says:

    Dunn’s right…we often forget how omnipresent U.S. influence is in Mexico! American restaurants are everywhere, our music is all over the radio, our television shows are just as popular here as in the states…and I suspect there are more Mexicans who speak English in Mexico than there are (non-Latino) Americans who speak Spanish in the U.S.!

  3. floyd says:

    So it’s a matter of geography, not demographic birth rates?

  4. Dave Schuler says:

    So it’s a matter of geography, not demographic birth rates?

    As best as I can tell it’s not “either-or”.

  5. Bithead says:


    You ever spend any time along the Texas Border? Or, for that matter, in SanDiego?

  6. Bithead,

    I get the impression from the exclamation marks that NoZe is being a bit sarcastic. Even if so, I think he is actually right in a lot of ways. I suspect that amongst educated persons in Mexico there is a larger prevalence of persons with knowledge (if not fluency) in English than with similar persons in the US who have a working knowledge of Spanish. For that matter, American restaurants and retail establishments are prominent in Mexico. The degree to which our music and tv shows penetrate their airwaves I can’t say with any authority, but I know they are there. Certainly our movies, sports and fashions have influence.

    There actually is a great deal of US influence over Mexican culture. I was struck when I was in Guadalajara some year ago that there were elements of the way business was done that reminded me far more of the US than it did of the way things were done in Bogota, Colombia (where I once lived for a year). Although certainly there were elements that were also quite Latin.

    Of course, even in Colombia the influence of the US was quite clear–especially in terms of restaurants, products and retail business models.

    And border towns are rarely the best judge for understanding a country as a whole.

    (And yes, I have been to San Diego and elsewhere of relevance).

  7. Richard Gardner says:

    Most of the debate is focused on half the illegal immigration problem, that from Mexico. According to a 2005 Pew Hispanic Center study

    Mexicans make up by far the largest group of undocumented migrants at 5.9 million or 57 percent of the total in the March 2004 estimates. This share has remained virtually unchanged for the past decade, even as the size of the undocumented population has grown very rapidly. In addition, another 2.5 million undocumented migrants or about 24 percent of the total are from other Latin American countries. About 9 percent are from Asia, 6 percent from Europe and Canada, and 4 percent from the rest of the world.

    Given the few Mexican immigrants in the DC Metro area (as opposed to Salvadorians and other Central Americans), I’m guessing the pols & pundits are considering all Latin Americans to be Mexicans. Plus no other Latin American country compares in quantity of immigrants to Mexico. Reading the full article, I see it does look at the birthrates of other sources of illegals.

  8. NoZe says:


    Yes, I have spent time on the Texas border, although I’ve not been to San Diego.

    Have you lived and worked in Mexico City recently?