Working Paper Series

Certified to migrate: Property rights and migration in rural Mexico


  • Alain de Janvry, Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley
  • Kyle Emerick, University of California at Berkeley
  • Marco Gonzalez-Navarro, University of Toronto
  • Elisabeth Sadoulet, University of California at Berkeley


  • Goldman School of Public Policy Working Paper (March 2012)


Improving security of tenure over agricultural land has recently been the focus of a number
of large land certification programs. While the main justification for these efforts was to increase
productive investments and facilitate land rental transactions, we show that if access rights were
tied to actual land use in the previous regime, these programs can also lead to increased outmi­
gration from agrarian communities. We analyze the Mexican ejido land certification program
which, from 1993 to 2006, awarded ownership certificates to 3.6 million farmers on about half the
country’s agricultural land. Using the program rollout over time and space as an identification
strategy, we show that households that obtained land certificates were 28% more likely to have a
migrant member. The effect was larger for households with ex-ante weaker property rights and
with larger off-farm opportunities. At the community level, certificates led to a 5% reduction in
population, and the effects were larger in lower land quality environments. We show evidence
of certificates leading to sorting, with larger farmers staying and land-poor farmers leaving in
high productivity areas. We use satellite imagery to determine that, on average, cultivated land
was not reduced because of the program, consistent with increases in agricultural labor produc­
tivity. Furthermore, in high productivity areas, the certification program led to an increase in
cultivated land compared to low productivity ones. We confirm the validity of the results with
checks on exogeneity of the rollout process relative to migration trends and on attrition in the
panel dataset we use.

Download File

Download a PDF (6MB)