Social Capital and how it Influences Migration

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1 September 2015

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Several scholars have given varying definitions of the term social capital. Social capital is a term used to refer to: “features of social organization such as networks, norms and social trust that facilitate coordination and cooperation for mutual benefit” (Putman 67). Fukuyama, another scholar, refers to it as an instantiated norm that is informal in nature and promotes cooperation among the members (1). Among the various definitions suggested by different scholars, the key notion they all agree to; is that social capital can only be present within relationships (Fukuyama 1). In these relationships, co-operation is facilitated by shared norms and understanding among the individuals involved for mutual benefit. Unlike human capital that is attributed to an individual, the whole concept of social capital involves social connectedness, neighborliness, civic involvement, trust, reciprocity and norms of co-operation.

Researchers have been able to prove individuals with high levels of social capital tend to have higher educational achievements, better health, better jobs and less criminal activities. Social capital is a result of co-operation among individuals who share a similar status within the situation, have common objectives and are guided by particular customs. Certain aspects of the social structure facilitate social capital, aspects such as common historical backgrounds and shared religion. Repeated community interactions lead to the rising of numerous co-operative norms that set the basis for spontaneous generation of social capital. The shared norms and beliefs that persons ought to or ought not to act in a certain way determine the extent to which individuals interacts, for example vacating a seat for an expectant woman on the bus. From time to time, people experience social needs that they have to satisfy. Socially, an individual is helpless if left all by himself and must interact with other in order to generate social capital to satisfy his needs. Human needs that are non-social in nature and can be satisfied without assistance from other individuals are very few making the satisfaction of both social and non-social products of a single process.

Fukuyama asserts that: “shared historical experience can shape informal norms and produce social capital” (16). Individuals with similar historic backgrounds tend to share a set of norms that in turn lead to co-operation amongst themselves. Religion is a significant contributor to the larger social capital theory by setting some common grounds for co-ordination among its followers. Over the years, religious institutions have been governed by a set of regulations that its members have to adhere to giving rise to certain norms among the community of members. Sometimes social capital is generated for specific purposes; Individuals may create social networks that will enable him/her achieve a specific objective.

Reciprocity norms results in the generation of social capital as it creates in an individual the need and willingness to help others. The desire for better living has also facilitated the generation of social capital where Individuals can acquire and accumulate other forms of capital through social capital. Both formal and informal networks form the basis of social capital concept. Alberto & Douglas confirm that there has been the emergence of social structures based on kinship or friendship. Those related socially to migrants; current migrants or former migrants can access social capital significantly increasing their likelihood of migration (Alberto, Douglas, et al…1272). The hypothesis has been time and again invoked to give an insight to the concentration of particular types of migrants in certain areas and the magnitude of their migration. Migration is facilitated by Migrant Networks; interpersonal connections that link migrants, non-migrants, and former migrants to one another through shared community origin. (Alberto, Douglas, et al., 1262). These set of networks are as a result of the already generated social capital. International migration is further fueled by core families already settled in which out-migrants cohere and the established social institutions campaigning in favor of migration. This kind of a connection increase the chances of International migration since the cost and risk involved in the movement is substantially lowered. Chances of out-migration increase each time a relation relocates to a different location. “Over time migrant networks become self-sustaining as a result of the social capital that they provide to prospective migrants” (Alberto, Douglas, et al., 1286). This fact is commonly observed among siblings where the younger siblings are more likely to follow suit after the elder ones.

The migrant families over time establish themselves first by building social networks among themselves and then with the rest of the local population as they accumulate experiences. The migrant grows to the point where it can sustain itself and continues to admit more migrants into its social relationship. This kind of setup is a social tie the makes it simple for the out-migrants to settle in as it provides a link between sending and receiving communities. Through social network with relatives or friends, the migrants can secure housing, jobs or even financial assistance. Complementary social roles and interpersonal relationships maintained by an informal set of expectations and prescribed behavior keep in bondage both migrants and non-migrants through social capital. This kind of social capital generates over time by virtue of being in a similar region under similar circumstances and not by the migratory process. Through such social ties, those left behind by the migrants can mitigate the loneliness of having a loved one away from them. The migrants also draw upon these ties to share the often, not so favorable conditions of life in exile.

The types of social capital people generate while relating to each other are very multidimensional in nature. Different network structures present a different social capital, the goal to be achieved being the determining factor. Social capital can be specific in nature when it is generated specifically to satisfy a given situation, i.e.; some kinds of ties are more important for the attainment of particular goals. This network is only instrumental in the achievement of the task. For example, sales managers sitting to strategize on the means to boost the sales of a new product through promotions. Close ties are often than not general social capital and are in most cases informal promoting the well-being of the individual members. Example, offering advice, spiritual support et. Cetera.


Alberto Palloni, Douglas S. Massey, Michael Spittel, Kristin Espinosa, Miguel Ceballos and Michael Spittel. “Social Capital and International Migration.”American Journal of Sociology. 106. 5 (2001): 1262-1298. PrinDouglas Massey, Rafael Alarcon, Jorge Durand, Humberto Gonzales. Return to Aztlan: The social Process of International Migration from Western Mexico. Berkeley: University of California press, 1987. Print.Francis Fukuyama. “Social Capital and Civil

Society.”Conference on Second Generation. (1999): web 15 Nov. 2008., T. F. “Annual Review of Psychology” Intergroup contact theory. 49.2 (1998):65-85. Print.

Putnam, R. “America’s declining social capital Journal of Democracy” Bowling Alone.6.1 (1995): 65-78. Print.

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