The Mexican Urban Household

[ Latin American Studies ]

The Mexican Urban Household

Organizing for Self-Defense

By Henry A. Selby, Arthur D. Murphy, and Stephen A. Lorenzen

With Ignacio Cabrera, Aida Castañeda, and Ignacio Ruiz Love

How ordinary people in Mexico survive in times of economic crisis.



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6 x 9 | 250 pp.

ISBN: 978-0-292-74166-9

The sufferings of “ordinary” people under harsh economic conditions can eventually lead to the fall of governments. Given this fact, it becomes important to know how “ordinary” people live—what privations they suffer and what strategies they use to survive in times of economic crisis. The Mexican Urban Household provides this information for Mexico near the end of the twentieth century.

Mexico is now a predominantly urban nation, and this study is the definitive work on the strategies of self-defense of its urban households. It is based on surveys of nearly 10,000 households, conducted during twenty years of field work in five very different cities, with the help of a staff of more than twenty Mexican social scientists, engineers, architects, and social workers.

Far from being a compilation of undigested statistics, however, The Mexican Urban Household uses its rich data to vividly reveal how Mexican families use their every resource to defend themselves against a political and economic system that overwhelms and exploits them. It describes how families band together, sometimes with three generations in one small house, to minimize expenses and pool resources. It explores the limited range of available jobs, from secure but scarce bureaucratic positions to more common and less reliable jobs in blue-collar industries and the informal economy. And, most important, it traces the high cost to families, particularly to women, of the endless struggle to make ends meet.

These important findings outline the dimensions of the economic crisis for ordinary Mexicans. It will be crucial reading not only for everyone interested in the future of Mexico but also for students of development throughout the Third World.

Part One. The Setting, the Study, and the Cities
1. The Setting and the Study
2. Cities of the Study
Part Two. The Mexican Urban Household
3. Households, Strategies, and the Economic System
4. The Mexican Urban Household
5. Household Dynamics and Economic Survival
Part Three. The Household Economy
6. Workers, Jobs, and Salaries in Urban Mexico
7. Household Income and Economic Welfare
8. Household Budgeting Strategies
9. The Economic Crisis and the New Adaptation
1. Study Methods
2. Supplementary Tables and Figures for Chapter 6
3. General Statistics on Mexican Households

Henry A. Selby is Professor Emeritus of Anthropology at the University of Texas at Austin. Arthur D. Murphy is Professor of Anthropology at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Stephen A. Lorenzen holds a Ph.D. in economics from the University of Texas at Austin.

"…this book stands out as an important contribution to understanding not only the Mexican case but for understanding the household economy and how it responds to changes in the wider political economy. It is exceptional in that it draws largely from the valuable contributions made by Latin Americans to the subject. It is highly readable and concise and would be a useful text in a course on the sociology of development or a course on the family and/or household."

American Journal of Sociology

"…this work is of considerable importance to several audiences. Its interdisciplinary bent will make it attractive to sociologists as well as anthropologists and some economists…it provides qualitative and quantitative data that serve to illustrate several key ideas in the study of development."

—M. Patricia Fernandez Kelly, research scientist and associate professor of sociology, Johns Hopkins University Institute for Policy Studies

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