Land use/land cover change (LULC) is a major threat to natural protected areas worldwide. This paper explores the relationships between four estimated LULC parameters for 17 Mexican biosphere reserves (BRs) for 1993–2002 on a GIS platform, and ten socioeconomic factors obtained from census data. These relationships were tested through linear correlations and multivariate analysis. BRs showed lower human demographic pressure, but higher population dispersion, social marginality, percentage of rain-fed agriculture area, and dependence upon agriculture and cattle compared to nationwide values. BRs also varied in their indigenous population, and showed cattle overpopulation, and low immigration and road density. Socioeconomic factors explained 87% of LULC variation. High population and road density, cattle overpopulation and low percentage indigenous population were related to percentage of transformed area (2002). Conversely, small population and road density, large proportion of indigenous population and high dependency on agriculture and cattle, were related to the rate of change in transformed area (1993–2002). High human population growth and urban concentration occurred when BRs suffered higher LULC than their corresponding ecoregions. Including socioeconomic conditions prevailing in BRs and their influence on LULC in reserve management and rural development planning will improve strategies for the confluence of conservation and development goals.