Paying Down the Care Deficit: The Health Consequences for Grandmothers Caring for Grandchildren in a Mexican Migrant Community of Origin


  • Mary Alice Scott New Mexico State University, Department of Anthropology



Intergenerational relationships, family, migrations, care, Mexico


While significant research addresses global chains of care work from the perspective of female migrant workers engaged in low-paid, unstable domestic labor in “receiving” communities, little research has focused on those who substitute for migrant workers to provide care in communities of origin. This article addresses that gap by focusing on the health consequences of care work for grandmothers in southern Veracruz, Mexico who assume the primary responsibility for caring for their grandchildren when the parents migrate out of the community. Based in the literature on care work and transnational families, this ethnographically-based article argues that grandmothers suffer consequences for their own health in three ways. They must deduct from their own health care resources – including time and money – to provide for their grandchildren. They must concede to the exploitation of already ill bodies to engage in the physical care of children and the household. Finally, they must transfer energy for self-care to caring for others thereby exacerbating their own existing health issues in order to meet the physical and emotional needs of their grandchildren. The article calls for further research in this area that aims to develop solutions to the problem of “care substitution” in transnational families.