Topic 6

Socio-Cultural Determinants of Remittances

Remittance flows and remittance expenditure patterns are determined not only by economic variables in destination and origin countries, but are also affected by patterns of migrant selectivity and socio-cultural factors in origin societies. This is exemplified in a paper by Jones and de la Torre (2011) who find evidence for remittance decay stemming from: long-term residence abroad, anchorage at the destination including economic mobility, increasing numbers of family members abroad, purchase of a home, and legalization of family members. In addition, although communications and visitation increase with longer periods abroad, they find that cultural values become “modernized” in a way that distances the migrants from their home communities in the long run. This study adds to the debate on the endurance of transnationalism. Smith (2002) addresses this debate by focusing on three common critiques of transnationalism—that it is nothing new, that as a concept it is antagonistic to assimilation, and that a small proportion of migrants actively participate in transnational activities. His findings from comparing the contemporary transnational ties of Mexicans with those of Swedish migrants in the past tend to agree with all three critiques, with important qualifications. First, transnationalism existed earlier just as now, but was not recognized as such and was treated only obliquely. Second, in the Mexican case particularly, transnationalism in the first generation changes to settlement in and commitment to the United States in the second generation, although cultural pride and frequent visitation to Mexico also characterize the second generation. Third, in both the Swedish and Mexican cases, a relatively small group was engaged in transnationalism, but they had a disproportionate influence within their communities.

Kurien (2008), based on extensive ethnographic fieldwork on remittances in three village communities in Kerala, India, observes striking differences in remittance flows and remittance expenditure in the three villages, which all experienced large-scale migration to the Gulf region. The author finds that whereas in the Muslim village, emphasis was given to distributing remittances to a large circle of community members, migrants in the Hindu village tended to spend large sums of money on life-cycle rituals. In the Christian village, remittance expenditure was largely confined to the immediate family, with an emphasis on saving the money earned for dowries and education. These differences should also be partly attributed to differences in migration selectivity, with Muslim migrants mostly working in the informal sector of Gulf countries and Hindu and, particularly, Christian villagers taking up formal positions as technicians, clerical workers and semi-professionals.

Finally, Tacoli (1999) concludes that among Filipino labor migrants in Rome, women’s commitments and obligations toward their households in home areas are generally stronger than those of their male counterparts. However, spatial distance and increased financial independence may provide some Filipina migrants with the opportunity to pursue `self-interested’ goals while at the same time keeping within the ‘altruistic’ role dictated by normative gender roles.


Topic 6 – Articles

Jones, Richard 2011. Diminished Tradition of Return? Transnational Migration in Bolivia’s Valle Alto. Global Networks 11: 1-23(Publisher Link)

This article addresses the reduction in economic and social remittances and the decline in traditional values with extended working time abroad. Results from a questionnaire survey of 417 households in the Valle Alto area of Cochabamba Department in 2007 suggest that transnational ties are strong: the average ‘active’ household has two adults overseas and three at home, depends on monetary remittances for ½ of its income, and maintains frequent communications between its local and foreign branches. However, after ten years of cumulated time abroad the intention of active migrants to return to Bolivia drops markedly, along with economic and some social remittances—and the cultural values of the household become less traditional. These declines are strongly related to the mediating forces of family members abroad, legal status, and home ownership abroad. The loss of traditions coupled with a dilution of economic resources from migration presents dilemmas for Bolivian villages. More broadly, this model of demographic shift between origin and destination and the resultant decline in social and economic remittances suggests that transnationalism is not as durable as sometimes assumed, and this may have resonance for other developing countries that have recently become remittance-dependent, as well as for the study of the migration and development in general.

Kurien, Prema A. 2008. A Socio-Cultural Perspective on Migration and Economic Development: Middle Eastern Migration from Kerala, India. Geneva: International Organisation for Migration.

Based on qualitative fieldwork among 276 households, the author examines the use of remittances in three villages in Kerala, India, which has experience large-scale migration to countries around the Persian Gulf. The author finds that remittance expenditure varied significantly according to community cohesiveness structure and the cultural-religious background of villages. In the Mappila (Keralite Muslim) village, remittances were distributed to the largest circle of people within the community and to supporting religious activities. In the Ezhava (lower caste Keralite Hindu) village, migrant households spent large sums of money on elaborations of life-cycle rituals during which there was lavish gift giving and entertaining. Thus, there was a smaller circle of exchange than in the Mappila village. In the Syrian Christian (upper caste Keralite Christian) community, the gains of migration were largely confined to the immediate family, such as financing education and dowries. The major forms of economic investment in the three communities varied also, from business activities in the Mappila Muslim community, to usurious lending in the Ezhava Hindu village, to fixed deposits and bonds in the Syrian Christian locality.

Smith, Robert C. 2001. Comparing Local-Level Swedish and Mexican Transnational Life: An Essay in Historical Retrieval. New Transnational Social Spaces: 37—58 (Click to Request PDF)

Drawing from more than ten years of his own ethnographic research on migration from Puebla state, Mexico, to New York City, and historical research by Robert Ostergren on migration from Ratvik Parish in the Swedish province of Dalarna, to Minnesota, the author addresses transnationalism today and in the past. He finds that transnationalism indeed existed in the earlier example (though it was weaker and endured for less time), and in both cases there was an evolutionary process from transnationalism to assimilation, rather than a “third space,” separate from either and existing for an indefinite period. In addition, although a relatively small proportion of persons participate(d) actively in transnational activities, in both cases this group  had important economic, political, cultural, and social influences on both origin and destination communities. The case of Ticuani, Puebla, despite its more persistent transnationalism, illustrates nevertheless that the village is being “emptied out” and is increasingly seen by the second generation as a place to go on vacation, rather than as a place to return, get politically involved, or invest.

From: New Transnational Social Spaces, ed. Ludger Pries, © 2001 Routledge. Reproduced by permission of Taylor & Francis Books UK

Tacoli, Cecilia. 1999. International Migration and the Restructuring of Gender Asymmetries: Continuity and Change among Filipino Labor Migrants in Rome. International Migration Review 33 (3): 658–682. (Publisher Link)

Based on a small (N=154) survey and qualitative interviews among 38 male and female respondents, this article examines the factors explaining  gender selectivity among Filipino labor migrants in Rome, where women are around 70 percent of this nationality group. Besides an analysis of the demand for female immigrant labor in the domestic service sector, the article explores ’supply’ factors, ranging from economic and labor market conditions in the Philippines to non-economic constraints, such as ideologies and gender expectations. The research findings indicate that migrant women’s commitments and obligations toward their households in home areas are generally stronger than those of their male counterparts. However, spatial distance and increased financial independence may provide some women with the opportunity to pursue ’self-interested’ goals while at the same time keeping within the ‘altruistic’ role dictated by normative gender roles.