Migration and the Value of Social Networks

Joshua E. Blumenstock, University of California, Berkeley, Guanghua Chi, Meta, and Xu Tan, University of Washington

How do social networks influence the decision to migrate? Prior work suggests two distinct mechanisms that have historically been difficult to differentiate: as a conduit of information, and as a source of social and economic support. We disentangle these mechanisms using a massive ‘digital trace’ dataset that allows us to observe the migration decisions made by millions of individuals over several years, as well as the complete social network of each person in the months before and after migration. These data allow us to establish a new set of stylized facts about the relationship between social networks and migration. Our main analysis indicates that the average migrant derives more social capital from ‘interconnected’ networks that provide social support than from ‘extensive’ networks that efficiently transmit information.