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Migration And The Global Economy

Before the international economic downturns that began in the 1970s, the composition of international migration generally held to Ravenstein's hypothesis that the primary motivation for migration was economic, and that young males predominated long-distance travel. Since the 1970s, the pattern of migration has transformed with global economic changes. Moreover, the composition of migration streams transformed because earlier waves of migration created support networks that helped more recent migrants overcome intervening obstacles and difficulties associated with adjusting to a new environment (Boyd 1989). As people settled in new places, they became valuable sources of information and economic assistance for prospective migrants to draw upon. As Monica Boyd (1989) notes, while structural forces form the basic incentives for migration, push-pull factors are filtered through social networks that connect sender and receiver populations. Various patterns of migration (e.g., Mexican immigration to the United States) have become institutionalized as these networks took root.

However, while family contacts often determine where migrants move, structural forces remain powerful causal factors. Douglas Massey and colleagues (1994) point out that most empirical evidence suggests that a crucial impetus for international migration is the combination of systemic unemployment in the sender population and good employment prospects in the receiver population. World-systems theorists argue that one effect of globalization has been to keep Third World economies dependent on agriculture and the exportation of raw materials and simple commodities. Slow industrialization and relatively high fertility rates have generated acute unemployment in these nations, and this partially explains why net migration streams have generally flowed in a unilateral (from periphery to core nations) under the global economy. Economic problems associated with globalization have made labor migration an important survival strategy for many Third World families. For some nations labor has become a major export economy, and states have facilitated migration to capitalize on its economic benefits. Shu-Ju Cheng (1999) notes that there were over two million documented Filipino migrant workers worldwide by 1995, and they remitted U.S. $18 billion between 1975 and 1994. Massey and colleagues (1994) point out that Mexican remittances were so great in certain communities that there were more U.S. dollars in circulation than their peso equivalent. In 1995, the total of world remittances from migrant laborers amounted to U.S. $70 billion (Taylor 1999).

Migration connections between rural economies and urban and international labor markets are particularly important for Third World consumption and production. Out-migration from rural populations to external labor markets has stimulated consumption and productivity in many Third World countries. As Massey and colleagues (1994) note, one study of two Mexican rural communities showed that remittances from domestic urban centers and the United States sustained a level of consumption 37 percent higher than gross production therein. J. Edward Taylor (1999) remarks that for every dollar Mexican migrant laborers sent home from the United States, Mexico's Gross National Product (GNP) increased between $2.69 and $3.17. Contrary to neoclassical theory, these studies demonstrate the potential nonunitary impact of labor migration. Besides increasing household consumption, income transfers have had a dynamic impact on some Third World economies. Remittances often initiate economic improvements because they are used for productive investments, and thus increase household incomes, productivity, and the GNP.


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Additional topics

Marriage and Family EncyclopediaOther Marriage & Family TopicsMigration - Types Of Migration, Theories Of Migration, Migration And The Family, Migration And The Global Economy