Economics serving society

The Formation of Migrant Networks

Margherita Comola and Mariapia Mendola

Social ties are especially important for migrant populations : generally, new arrivals have none or few of the skills wanted by the host country, and their knowledge of that is often virtually non-existent (1). Most researchers do not observe the internal structures of immigrant networks; until now, empirical studies have used very indirect measures of ties, assuming that migrants interact in homogeneous fashion within their groups (2).
In this article, Comola and Mendola address the literature gap by studying the determinants of interpersonal ties among immigrants in the host society, and the economic function of such ties. They use new data collected with that aim, from an ethnically homogeneous sample of immigrants from Sri Lankan living in Milan. For the first time in economics literature about migrants, a diadic approach is used to study the modalities of the formation and internal structure of social networks created by migrants. The authors focus on the role played by the distance between the places of origin and the moment at which the migrants arrived. Their results show that the intra-group interactions are heterogeneous: migrants tend to interact with co-nationals who come from the same areas in the country of origin. On the other hand, the effect of their time of arrival takes the form of a U: links are most frequent between migrants who arrive at the same time, and between those who arrived a long time ago and the most-newly arrived. The authors also examine the extent to which networks provide material support, according to three criteria assumed to be most important to migrants: housing, credit and the search for work. The results presented here suggest that for new arrivals, material support is mostly provided by extended family, while migrants who arrived earlier help them most in the search for work.
(1) Massey et al. 1999; Munshi, 2003
(2) Munshi 2003

Original title of the article : “The Formation of Migrant Networks”
Forthcoming: Scandinavian Journal of Economics
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