Erika Arenas

Erika Arenas
University of California, Santa Barbara
Assistant Professor
Professor Arenas studies migration and social stratification. She was trained as social demographer and social stratification researcher, with a strong focus on Latino migrant populations living in the United States. Her research agenda encompasses three main areas: (1) migration, (2) social stratification based on skin color, and (3) the
effect of social programs on socio-economic and demographic outcomes.


Professor Arenas’ research has focused on investigating the complex association between health and migration. She is interested in understanding (i) how health affects the decision to migrate, (ii) what are the effects of migration on health outcomes for migrants on destination areas, (iii) what are the effects of migration on health outcomes of the family that stay behind, and (iv) what are the social and institutional factors affecting the decision to migrate. Currently she is examining how sending remittances may impact immigrants’ health outcomes.

The last ten years of her career, she has been actively participating in the collection of a unique dataset to study migrant populations: the Mexican Family Life Survey (, which is a long term panel study that has successfully tracked and interviewed respondents across national borders. Currently, Prof. Arenas is co-PI and co-Director of the fourth wave of the MxFLS (MxFLS-4), which will be fielded in 2017 and 2018. Given that the panel will cover a period of fifteen years, she plans to use these data to investigate: (1) the mechanisms driving immigrant health deterioration/improvement in the United States, (2) the impact of documentation status on immigrant’s life chances, (3) the impact of migration on life chances outcomes for family members that stay in the sending region, and (4) the social determinants of domestic and international migration.

Social Stratification based on skin color

Professor Arenas is interested in examining how skin color affects life chances. She has studied how skin color shapes marriage markets using novel data she collected for the Mexican Marital Preference Pilot Project (MxMPP). For MxFLS-4, she will collect novel skin color data using several instruments (e.g. skin color palettes, and spectrophotometers) to investigate how skin color interacts with gender, indigenous background, age, class, and geographic location to determine educational, health, and labor market outcomes, and partner choice.

Social Programs and socio-demographic outcomes

Professor Arenas’ research includes the impact of public policies on socio-economic and demographic factors. She has examined the impact of Seguro Popular (a program intended to reduce health disparities in Mexico) on several health outcomes. She is involved in a project that investigates the impact of Prospera (before Oportunidades, a program aimed at reducing poverty via conditional cash transfers) on fertility and marriage behavior. Using data from MxFLS-4, she plans to examine how conditional cash transfer programs affect women bargaining power within their households.

Grants, Awards and Distinctions:

CONACYT. 2016.  Fourth Wave of the Mexican Family Fife Survey. (Co-PI). MXN 18,550,000 pesos, $927,500 .

W.K. Kellogg Foundation. 2017. Inclusion of the Black Population in Mexico's 2020 Census. (Co-PI). $372,000

UC MEXUS. 2017. The Role of Documentation Status on Mental Health


Saldívar, Emiko, PatricioSolís, Erika Arenas. 2020. 
"Consideraciones metodólogicas para el conteo de la población afromexicana en el Censo 2020"
Coyuntura Demográfica, 14, 49-56. 
Saldívar, Emiko, Patricio Solís, and Erika Arenas. 2018. 
"Consideraciones metodológicas para el conteo de la población afromexicana en el Censo 2020."
Conyuntura Demográfica.
Yahirun, Jenjira, and Erika Arenas. 2018. 
"Offspring Migration and Parents' Emotional and Psychological Well-being in Mexico."
Journal of Marriage and Family, 80(4) 975-991.
Arenas, Erika. 2017. 
"Abuelos at home: Differential impact on children's education by family structure."
Research in Social Stratification and Mobility, 52, 36-48.
Erika Arenas, Hector Conroy, Jenna Nobles. Forthcoming.
"Recent Trends in Internal and International Mexican Migration: Evidence from the Mexican Family Life Survey, edited by Universidad Iberoamericana."
Erika Arenas, Bongoh Kye, Graciela Teruel and Luis Rubalcava. 2016.
"The impact of education and health heterogeneity on Generational Support Ratios in Mexico"
Ageing and Society, 1-38, doi:10.1017/S0144686X16000751