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Social capital and migration: How do similar resources lead to divergent outcomes?

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This article investigates how migrant social capital differentially influences individuals’ migration and cumulatively generates divergent outcomes for communities. To combine the fragmented findings in the literature, the article proposes a framework that decomposes migrant social capital into resources (information about or assistance with migration), sources (prior migrants), and recipients (potential migrants). Analysis of multilevel and longitudinal data from 22 rural villages in Thailand shows that the probability of internal migration increases with the available resources, yet the magnitude of increase depends on recipients’ characteristics and the strength of their ties to sources. Specifically, individuals become more likely to migrate if migrant social capital resources are greater and more accessible. The diversity of resources by occupation increases the likelihood of migration, while diversity by destination inhibits it. Resources from weakly tied sources, such as village members, have a higher effect on migration than resources from strongly tied sources in the household. Finally, the importance of resources for migration declines with recipients’ own migration experience. These findings challenge the mainstream account of migrant social capital as a uniform resource that generates similar migration outcomes for different groups of individuals or in different settings. In Nang Rong villages, depending on the configuration of resources, sources, and recipients, migrant social capital leads to differential migration outcomes for individuals and divergent cumulative migration patterns in communities.

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This research was funded by research grants from Program in Urbanization and Migration at Princeton University and the National Science Foundation (#SES-0525942). I am grateful to Renelinda Arana, Debbie Becher, Coral Celeste, Chang Chung, Sara Curran, Paul DiMaggio, Doug Massey, Steven Shafer, Amy Sullivan, Marta Tienda, Bruce Western, and the anonymous reviewers for helpful suggestions. This research is based on data from the Nang Rong Survey, a collaborative effort between investigators at the University of North Carolina, Carolina Population Center, and investigators at the Institute for Population and Social Research (IPSR), Mahidol University, Salaya, Thailand. It is partially funded by Grant R01- HD25482 from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development to the Carolina Population Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Persons interested in obtaining data files from the Nang Rong Survey Project should contact The Nang Rong Survey Project, Carolina Population Center, 123 W. Franklin Street, CB# 8120, Chapel Hill, NC 27516-3997 (nangrong@unc.edu).

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Garip, F. Social capital and migration: How do similar resources lead to divergent outcomes?. Demography 45, 591–617 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1353/dem.0.0016

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  • Social Capital
  • Potential Migrant
  • Migration Decision
  • Destination Diversity
  • Migration Outcome