Migrant Networks and International Migration: Testing Weak Ties

Abstract

This article examines the role of migrant social networks in international migration and extends prior research by testing the strength of tie theory, decomposing networks by sources and resources, and disentangling network effects from complementary explanations. Nearly all previous empirical research has ignored friendship ties and has largely neglected extended-family ties. Using longitudinal data from the Migration between Africa and Europe project collected in Africa (Senegal) and Europe (France, Italy, and Spain), this article tests the robustness of network theory—and in particular, the role of weak ties—on first-time migration between Senegal and Europe. Discrete-time hazard model results confirm that weak ties are important and that network influences appear to be gendered, but they do not uphold the contention in previous literature that strong ties are more important than weak ties for male and female migration. Indeed, weak ties play an especially important role in male migration. In terms of network resources, having more resources as a result of strong ties appears to dampen overall migration, while having more resources as a result of weaker ties appears to stimulate male migration. Finally, the diversity of resources has varied effects for male and female migration.

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Fig. 1
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Notes

  1. 1.

    Some studies about immigrant labor market integration distinguish between familial and friendship ties (e.g., Amuedo-Dorantes and Mundra 2007; Munshi 2003).

  2. 2.

    There are two other reasons to analyze legal family reunification separately. First, the household strategies approach of Palloni et al. (2001) does not consider how legal family reunification can transform the migration context—pushing the equilibrium toward settlement, as opposed to circular migration—and therein the influence of migrant networks. Second, the concept of household is broader in Senegal than in many origin countries (such as Mexico) and often includes extended family, who traditionally play a key role in migration decisions (see González-Ferrer et al. (2012) for a review).

  3. 3.

    Even Palloni et al.’s strategy (2001) of controlling for household strategies via father migration and capturing migrant network effects via brother migration is troublesome in this regard.

  4. 4.

    Five extraordinary regularization programs of undocumented migrants occurred in each country. In Spain, these happened in 1986, 1991, 1996, 2000–2001, and 2005 (Arango and Jachimonwicz 2005). In Italy, the campaigns took place in 1986, 1990, 1995, 1998, and 2002 (Levinson 2005).

  5. 5.

    In addition to traditional avenues of status-raising consumption (e.g., houses, cars, and ceremonies and religious pilgrimages at origin), Senegalese migrants of both genders can enjoy unprecedented access and proximity to important marabouts (Muslim religious leaders) when they contribute to the marabouts’ fundraising tours abroad (Evers Rosander 2002).

  6. 6.

    The MAFE project is coordinated by INED (C. Beauchemin) and is formed additionally by the Université Catholique de Louvain (B. Schoumaker), Maastricht University (V. Mazzucato), the Université Cheikh Anta Diop (P. Sakho), the Université de Kinshasa (J. Mangalu), the University of Ghana (P. Quartey), the Universitat Pompeu Fabra (P. Baizan), the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (A. González-Ferrer), the Forum Internazionale ed Europeo di Ricerche sull’Immigrazione (E. Castagnone), and the University of Sussex (R. Black). The MAFE project received funding from the European Community’s Seventh Framework Programme under grant agreement 217206. The MAFE-Senegal survey was conducted with the financial support of INED, the Agence Nationale de la Recherche (France), the Région Ile de France and the FSP program International Migrations, Territorial Reorganizations and Development of the Countries of the South. For more details, see http://www.mafeproject.com/.

  7. 7.

    These countries were selected primarily because of data limitations, but they appear to be an appropriate focus of study. The three hosted a remarkable 62 % of Senegalese international migrants in 2008, according to the MAFE household survey (Flahaux et al. 2010).

  8. 8.

    The urban sampling strategy of urban Dakar might actually downwardly bias results, if at all. Fussell and Massey (2004) found that community social capital in Mexico was less influential in urban than rural areas.

  9. 9.

    Marsden and Campbell (1984) argued that strength of ties literature has confounded indicators (“actual components of tie strength”; p. 485) and predictors (“aspects of relationships that are related to, but not components of tie strength”; p. 488) of tie strength. The migrant networks literature therefore has systematically substituted tie strength predictors (source and number of ties) for indicators.

  10. 10.

    Focusing on first migration to Europe clarifies and limits our analytical strategy. Analysis of complex migration strategies (e.g., stepwise, circular, or return migration) is outside this study’s scope but holds much promise for future study. In the case of stepwise migration (Paul 2011), Senegalese migrants may first work in a “stepping-stone country” (such as oil-rich Libya) in order to accumulate the human, financial, and social capital to move to a more desired destination in Europe or America.

  11. 11.

    Models that include all friendship ties without restrictions exaggerate migrant network effects. Results are available upon request.

  12. 12.

    This may be especially true given Senegalese family structure. Between one-fourth (28 %) and one-half (48 %) of marriages (in urban and rural areas, respectively) are endogamous or between maternal or paternal cousins (Bass and Sow 2006:94, citing N’Diaye et al. 1991).

  13. 13.

    Alternative operationalizations of household membership were tested (results not shown, but available upon request): it appears that Palloni et al.’s original household indicator (father migration) is relevant only for male migration.

  14. 14.

    The urban origin indicator is based on the most recent comprehensive data available; the Agence Nationale de la Statistique et de la Démographie’s (ANSD) urban/rural classification from the 2002 Senegal census.

  15. 15.

    The periods are pre-1985, 1985–1993, 1994–1998, 1999–2003, and 2004 and later. In 1985, France introduced a compulsory visa policy for Senegalese. In 1994, Senegal experienced a grave economic crisis when its currency, the CFA franc, was unlinked from the French franc and devalued by one-half. The rest of the periods were made to be of approximately equal length.

  16. 16.

    Analyzing the Mexican Health and Migration Survey, Kanaiaupuni et al. (2005) found that different dimensions of migrant network (proximity, frequency of contact, coresidence, and whether emotional support or financial resources were offered) were associated with different aspects of child health at origin.

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Acknowledgments

I am grateful to Amparo Gonzaléz-Ferrer for her steady support. I also thank Pau Baizán, Mathew Creighton, Filiz Garip, and three of Demography’s anonymous referees for valuable comments. An earlier version of this article was presented at the annual meeting of the Population Association of America in Washington, DC, March 31–April 2, 2011. The research was funded in part through the European Community’s Seventh Framework Programme (Grant No. 217206), the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation (Grant No. CSO2009-12816), INED, the Agence Nationale de la Recherche (France), the Région Ile de France, and the FSP program Migrations Internationales, Recompositions Territoriales et Développement.

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Appendix

Appendix

Table 7 Migrant networks and operational measures
Fig. 3
figure3

Construction of household migrant network and nonhousehold migrant network indicators. Network indicators are lagged by one year (not shown) to avoid capturing simultaneous migration with the respondent. aHousing composition is available only for the first year of the housing spell (Year 1 for Spell 1, and Year 6 for Spell 2)

bCousins, aunts/uncles, nieces/nephews, and grandparents are all recorded as “other relative” in the housing module.

cOnly years lived in Europe qualify for migrant network measures.

dFriend A is excluded from the migrant network measures because friendship with the respondent started after the friend moved to Italy

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Liu, MM. Migrant Networks and International Migration: Testing Weak Ties. Demography 50, 1243–1277 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13524-013-0213-5

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Keywords

  • Migration
  • Networks
  • Social capital
  • Weak ties
  • Africa