Generational Expectations of Motherhood, Education and Society in Mexico


My great-grandmother was born in 1909 in Guadalajara, Mexico to a military general. Her mother passed away soon after her birth and her father died in the Mexican Revolution. She was adopted by a family with a large hacienda—or estate—and lived with them until she married my great-grandfather.

Mexican tradition called for a man courting a woman to prove that he could provide for a wife and future family. My great-grandfather brought food to my great-grandmother and her family for an entire year to fulfill this customary practice. Every three or four months, he would come by with corn and beans for my great-grandmother and the hacienda.

My great-grandparents also exchanged letters with each other during this year. They passed letters through a small window since they were not allowed to see each other.

After marriage, the expectation of my great grandmother was to have children—the more children she gave birth to, the more prosperous her household.

She gave birth to twenty-four children, including several pairs of twins.  A midwife on a ranch in southern rural Mexico helped with the births. She lived to be 105 years old, teaching her children with knowledge gained from life experiences rather than by formal education.

My grandmother told me that her parents taught her everything growing up; her mother taught her and her sisters household tasks, and her father she taught them to read and write. No other schooling opportunities were available until she moved to the city.

My grandmother’s father was the town judge, and considered to be more knowledgeable because his level of education was higher than many of the other people in town. My grandmother was one of the youngest daughters my great grandmother had, and tasked with smaller duties like selling the cheese they produced at the train stop.

My grandmother told me her story about how she met my grandfather—beginning by saying that they did not spend time getting to know each other before they wed.

She gave birth to six children— five daughters and one son. She had some primary level school education.  She told me with sadness how she was encouraged to return to school by a lady she worked for and looked up to, but she never got the opportunity to do so. She worked on the farm, then in the family tortilla business in Torreon, Mexico until she married my grandfather.  

Every time I speak to my grandmother, I get the question, “When are you going to give me a grandchild?” Her fear and urgency come from a desire for me to fulfill the most traditional role for women in my culture. All the women of my mother’s generation had children by their early twenties, with two to four children each.

Women in my family have previously had little formal education because they got married so young.  After marriage, the women of my family gave up on furthering their education to became stay-at-home mothers and housewives.

Social expectations have changed in some ways, but many expectations remain the same. Marriage practices and the educational status of of the women in my family continue to change throughout the generations.

My great-grandmother grew up in a different world compared to the one she saw at the end of her life. She saw the expectations change for a woman’s life change over the past century, from, their work, their family life, their educational opportunities, the type of health care they can expect, their social standing, and political participation. In 1910, women made up 14% of the Mexican workforce. By 2008, they rose to 38%. [1]

The last half a century has seen most of that increase. Figures from 2010 estimate that:

  • Four million women 15 years or older (under 4%) are illiterate today
  • 92% of girls between the ages 6-14 attend school [2]

The 20th century ended with advances to maternal mortality:

  • 95% of women of reproductive age knew about at least one type of contraceptive
  • At least 78% could expect to give birth in a hospital or clinic, lowering maternal deaths considerably.” [3]
  • There continues to beis 31-100 maternal deaths per 100,000 births. [4]

On the national scale, 2013 figures approximate the median age of marriage for women at around 27 years of age. The highest percentages of marriages are when there is an age gap where a man is older than a woman by 3 to 5 year. [5]

However, there are still old practices perpetrated in some parts of the country including child marriage with 5-10% of the population married at the age of 16 or younger.[6]

 Education is recognized as important in Mexican society, but is in many cases not pursued past a certain level for a number of reasons. Foremost among them is that a woman is expected to dedicate her whole time to be a housewife and or just stay at home.

There are expectations of what a girl is supposed to do, how she is supposed to behave and what kind of life she is eventually supposed to live in a Hispanic household.

There has been change and progress in terms of education for women. Current population estimates show that the dynamics of marriage in terms of education are the following:

  • In 20% percent of marriages the man has obtained a higher level of education than his wife.
  • In 47% they both have the same level of education and in 33% it is the woman who has the higher level of education.[7]

This does still leaves a lot of Mexican women without higher education.

Significant progress has been made in Mexico since my great-grandmother’s time, but my generation has more work to do. Education and female empowerment need to be made priorities in the Hispanic world.

—by Marita Jimenez



[1]  Monk, Heather Dashner. “Mexican Women – Then and Now.” Mexican Women – Then and Now – International Viewpoint.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Maternal Mortality Rates, Women Stats Map

[5] Catalyst. Quick Take: Women in Mexico. New York: Catalyst, March, 2016. “Matrimonios Y Divorcios. Cuéntame De México.”

[6] Practice of Child Marriage for Girls Scaled, Women Stats Map

[7] Catalyst. Quick Take: Women in Mexico. New York: Catalyst, March, 2016.

Catalyst. Quick Take: Women in Mexico. New York: Catalyst, March, 2016.

“Matrimonios Y Divorcios. Cuéntame De México.” Matrimonios Y Divorcios. Cuéntame De México. Accessed November 23, 2016.

“Margarita Zavala Quiere Ser La Primera Mujer Presidenta En 2018.” Forbes. Accessed November 23, 2016.

Monk, Heather Dashner. “Mexican Women – Then and Now.” Mexican Women – Then and Now – International Viewpoint – Online Magazine. Accessed November 2016.

Women and Stats
Maternal Mortality Rates, Women Stats Map
Practice of Child Marriage for Girls Scaled, Women Stats Map
Government Participation by Women, Women Stats Map


One thought on “Generational Expectations of Motherhood, Education and Society in Mexico

  1. V Hudson says:

    What a fascinating story, I am so glad to hear about these strong women! And I am also glad that things have changed for the women of Mexico!

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