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The National Agricultural Workers Survey

Chapter 2: Family Composition and Living Arrangements

Introduction

This chapter will discuss the family composition and living arrangements of the farm workers interviewed by this survey. We will examine the marital and parental status of farm workers, the number of people with whom they lived, and their relationships to their living companions.

Summary of Findings

  • Two in five married farm workers were living away from their spouses while doing farm work; the same proportion were living away from their children while doing farm work. Moreover, the proportion seemed to be increasing in recent years.
  • Most adult farm workers (three-fifths) were married.
  • Approximately one-half of the adult farm workers were parents of children under age 18; forty-three percent of adult farm workers were parents of children ages 14 and under.
  • Eighty-one percent of farm worker parents of small children were foreign-born.
  • Fifty-six percent of all farm workers lived in living situations which contained unrelated individuals.
  • Half of the male farm workers lived in living situations which were made up exclusively of people unrelated to themselves, while only one in ten women farm workers lived solely with unrelated persons.
  • Nearly half of all farm workers lived in living situations which contained family members.
  • Over one-third (37%) of U.S. born farm workers were likely to be married to someone who was born in Mexico.
  • About seven percent of married Mexican-born farm workers had spouses who were born in the United States.

Family Status

Most (three-fifths) farm workers who were 18 years or older were married; however, this proportion varied by place of birth. While farm workers born in the United States were less likely than foreign-born workers to be married (49% and 64%, respectively), male and female farm workers were equally likely to be married (60% and 62%, respectively). Forty-five percent of U.S. born men were married, while 64% of foreign-born men were married. Similarly, 56% of the U.S. born women were married, while 68% of the foreign-born women were married (see Figure 2.1).

Figure 2.1
Undisplayed Graphic
Source: NAWS 1994-95

Within the farm workers' community there is considerable cross-marriage of U.S. born Hispanics to Mexicans. Looking first at the farm workers who were born in the United States, we found those farm workers were likely to be married to someone who was born in Mexico. Among the married U.S. born Hispanic male farm workers, 27 percent had Mexican wives. Among the married U.S. born Hispanic women, almost two thirds (65%) had Mexican husbands. Nearly two-thirds (65%) of the Mexican spouses in these marriages had worked as farm workers.

If we look at the Mexican-born farm workers, the percentages are quite different. Among married male Mexican farm workers, only 7 percent had U.S. born wives. Among married female Mexican farm workers, 8 percent had U.S. born husbands. About one-third (36%) of the U.S. born spouses in these marriages had worked as farm workers. Because these families had one adult who was born in the United States, family members are more likely than families with no U.S. born adults to benefit from social service programs.

Approximately half of the adult farm workers were parents children ages 17 and younger. Almost three-fifths (58%) of the adult female farm workers were parents, while just under half (47%) of the male farm workers were parents. Foreign-born farm workers were more likely than U.S. born farm workers to be parents (53% and 39%, respectively). This also held true when looking at men and women separately. Among men, 52% of the foreign-born workers were parents, while only 31% of U.S. born workers were parents. For women, 63% of the foreign-born workers were parents, while only 53% of the U.S. born workers were parents.

Forty-three percent of adult farm workers were parents of children ages 14 and under: 14% had one child in this age group, 22% had two or three children, and 7% had four or more children. Half of the foreign-born workers had children's ages 14 or under, while only 28% of the U.S. born workers had children in this age group. Eighty-one percent of farm worker parents of small children were foreign born. Later in this chapter, we will discuss the issue of whether these children were living with their parents.

Some farm workers (8%) were themselves minors. Of these, the percentage of young farm workers (age 17 and younger) who were married is quite small (4%). Generally, more young women were married than young men (9% and 3%, respectively). Young foreign-born workers were more likely to be married than their U.S. born counterparts (12% and 4%, respectively, over all years of the survey). Approximately 4% of these young farm workers had children of their own.

Farm Workers and Their Living Arrangements

The survey found that 10% of all farm workers lived completely alone, not sharing their residences with family members, work mates, or other individuals. The level of farm workers who lived alone varied by ethnic group. Fewer than 10 percent of the U.S. born Hispanic farm

Figure 2.2
Undisplayed Graphic
Source: NAWS 1994-95

workers or the farm workers born in Mexico or other Latin American countries lived alone, while as many as 27% of the non-white, non-Hispanic U.S. born farm workers lived by themselves. Similar proportions of men and women workers lived by themselves without any living mates (8% of the women workers and 11% of the men workers).

Number of Occupants in Farm Worker Living Situations

Farm workers born in the United States were more likely than foreign-born workers to live in living situations which contained only one or two other people (44% versus 19%, respectively), whether or not these other people were related. Foreign-born workers, on the other hand, were more likely than U.S. born workers to share a residence with many (i.e., five or more) people (46% versus 19%, respectively)

Farm Workers Living With Family

About half (48%) of all farm workers lived in living situations which contained family members (spouses or children, as well as siblings or other relatives). Seven out of ten U.S. born farm workers lived with family, while not more than four in ten of the foreign-born workers lived with family members (see Figure 2.2).

A majority of farm workers now do U.S. farm work away from their nuclear families. Forty-four percent of farm workers in FY 1994-95 were accompanied by a spouse, a child, or a parent who lived in their households. This percentage had declined since FY 1990-91, when three-fifths (61%) of farm workers lived with a spouse, a child, or a parent.

While most adult farm workers were married, a sizeable percentage of them lived without their spouses while doing farm work. Two-fifths of married farm workers were interviewed while living away from their spouses. The proportions of farm workers living without their spouses varied strikingly by the gender and the national origin of the farm worker. One-half of the

Figure 2.3
Undisplayed Graphic
Source: NAWS 1994-95

married male farm workers lived without their wives, while only 9% of the married female Farm workers lived without their husbands. One-half of the foreign-born married workers lived without their spouses, while only 16% of the U.S. born workers were without their spouses (see Figure 2.3).

There is evidence from the survey that the high rate of separation of men from their families is part of a pattern of immigration among Mexican farm workers employed in the United States in which the men enter the United States prior to their wives. Among female Mexican farm workers only 11 percent came before their husbands to the United States. Among the males, 67 percent came before their wives. A minority of couples entered the United States at the same time; this pattern accounted for 30% of the female and 22% of the male farm workers.

Figure 2.4
Undisplayed Graphic
Source: NAWS 1994-95

In addition to separation from their spouses, many farm workers were separated from their children while working in farm work. Of farm workers who had children, two in five (42%) reported that their children lived in other locations (see Figure 2.4). Looking further at

this situation, the survey found that nearly two-fifths (38%) of the farm worker parents who had children age 14 and under reported that these children lived in other locations, while 13% of the farm worker parents who had children age 15 and older (into adulthood) reported that these children lived in other locations. (Nine percent of the farm worker parents had children in both age groups who lived in other locations.)

Men were more likely to be separated from their children than were women. In FY 1994-95, half (49%) of the male farm workers who had children reported that their children lived in other locations, an increase from 35% in FY 1989. On the other hand, only 4% of the female farm workers who had children reported that their children lived in other locations, down from 8% in FY 1989.

A small percentage of all farm workers (9%) lived with one or both of their parents. The proportion of farm workers who lived with their parents rose dramatically when looking only at the farm workers who were age 17 or younger: 53% lived with at least one parent. Conversely, nearly half (47%) of the younger farm workers lived on their own, away from their parents. A much higher percentage of young U.S. born farm workers lived with their parents compared to young farm workers who were born in other countries (75% to 20%, respectively). The large group of foreign-born teenage farm workers living without their parents (80%) may be of special interest to social service delivery agencies.

In comparing farm workers born in the United States with those born in other countries, we found that larger proportions of U.S. born farm workers lived with their families than their foreign counterparts. Over the years (1989 to 1995), approximately 8% of the U.S. born farm workers who had close family lived away from these family members. On the other hand, one-third of the foreign-born farm workers who had close family lived away from their family members. Moreover, for the foreign born only, the most recent two-year period showed a rise in this proportion. It rose to 44%.

Women farm workers were more likely to live with family members than were male farm workers. Nearly six out of ten female farm workers lived solely with family members, while fewer than three in ten male farm workers lived with family members only (see Figure 2.2).

Nearly all farm workers (94%) who lived in living situations that contained family members were accompanied by at least one immediate family member: a spouse, a child, or a parent. Looking at the households which contained only family members, more than one-half of the U.S. born farm workers (58%) lived with family members only, while fewer than one-quarter of the foreign-born workers (23%) lived only with family (see Figure 2.2). Of farm workers who lived in living situations with any family members, approximately one-quarter lived with one family member, about one-quarter lived with two family members, nearly two-fifths lived with three or four family members, and one-eighth lived with five or more family members.

Farmworkers Living With Family and Non-Family

Some of the living arrangements of farm workers may contain non-family residents as well as family. Among those farm workers who lived in a nuclear family setting (containing a parent, spouse, or child), a relatively high number had non-family members also living with them. Grouping all farm workers together, one-fifth (20%) of these nuclear families served as an anchor or host for non-family members. It is likely in these cases that the majority of these non-family household members were either work associates or people from the same sending areas abroad. However, these "mixed households" were quite rare among the U.S. born farm workers — just eight percent of the non-Hispanic and nine percent of the Hispanic U.S. farm workers lived in living situations which contained both immediate family members and non-family participants. However, 29 percent of the Mexican-born and 41 percent of the other Latin American-born farm workers living in a nuclear family setting had non-family residing with them. The propensity for these workers, many of whom did not live with members of their immediate families, to live with non-relatives may have been driven in part by their need to pool resources.

For all farm workers, 56% lived in living situations which contained unrelated individuals (family members may have also been present). This proportion varied widely by whether the farm worker was born in the United States or not; over two-thirds of the foreign-born workers lived in living situations that contained unrelated individuals, while approximately one-quarter of workers born in the United States lived in such households.

Farm Workers Living With Non-Family Only

The most common living pattern for farm workers was to live exclusively with non-relatives. Male farm workers were much more likely than their female counterparts to live in living situations with only unrelated individuals. Half of the male farm workers lived in living situations made up only of people who were not their relatives, while only 11% of the women workers lived with unrelated persons only.

The inclination to live in living situations which contained only unrelated individuals is particularly pronounced among the unauthorized workers. Seventy-five percent of the unauthorized workers lived in living situations which contained only people who were not related to themselves, while only 36% of legal permanent residents (LPRs), 15% of citizens, and 23% of workers with other legal statuses lived in living situations which contained only unrelated individuals.

The survey results imply that many of the workers who lived exclusively with non-family members were occupying labor camps or lived jointly with large numbers of people in small houses and apartments. This pattern became apparent by comparing workers who lived with large numbers of non-family members with other workers. For example, overall, about one in five farm workers lived in housing provided by the employer to the worker, and about one fourth of all farm workers reported that they lived on the U.S. farm where they worked. However, if we look just at the one-sixth of the farm worker population that lived exclusively with six or more non-family living mates, we see that 55% lived in housing provided by the employer; another third rented from a non-employer. Moreover, one-half of these workers who lived with six or more non-relatives lived on the employer's farm.