Migration and Globalization

Marcia B Dinneen. 21st Century Anthropology: A Reference Handbook. Editor: H James Birx. Volume 2. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Reference, 2010.

Throughout the history of humankind, people have migrated. From ancient peoples crossing oceans in wooden or even reed boats to entrepreneurs traversing the globe on jet planes, migration is part of human existence. People have migrated to find food, safety, or shelter. They have migrated to flee enemies, to find work, or to practice their faith. Some migrations are local; others are within a country, across national borders, or from one continent to another. Once viewed as a sign of crisis, migration is now viewed as a normal element of human society. In a 1959 paper delivered at the 11th International Congress of Historical Sciences in Stockholm in 1959, Frank Thistlethwaite wrote that migration is central to the general human pattern, essential for the functioning of families, and crucial to the operation of the labor market. He went on to state that migration streams are as much a part of the history of the American people as Frederick Turner’s frontier policy. To study history is to take into account the causes and effects of migration. Continually, humans have looked to improve their lives by taking the often dangerous but always wrenching step of leaving their homes and seeking a new place to live. Some people experience several migrations in their lifetimes; others never leave their homes.

Migration and Anthropology

Just as migration is not a new human activity, the study of migration is not a recent concern for scholars. Social scientists have long recognized the importance of migration as a factor in social change. Geographers, historians, political scientists, sociologists, economists, and others have studied the causes and effects of migration for years. In 1885, E. G. Ravenstein published his laws of migration; this is the earliest systematic study of migration. These “laws” are generalizations on the characteristics of migrants as well as on their origins and destinations. Migration streams (flows) and counter-streams (return migration) are also included within Ravenstein’s laws.

These laws have stimulated researchers over the years. Since the mid-1960s, the focus has been on migration as a system, examining migration streams and counter-streams as well as the effects of migration on sending and receiving societies. What is comparatively recent in the study of migration is the interest expressed by anthropologists. As a discipline, anthropology was a latecomer to the study of migration as a social and cultural process. Caroline Brettell (2003) stated that anthropologists did not write about what was happening in front of them, since the social and cultural aspects of migration did not appear to fit their modes of study. However, by the late 1950s and early 1960s, many anthropologists felt that migration should receive more attention as a source for research. Thereafter, studies of people moving from rural villages into cities as well as other migration streams began to populate the literature of anthropology.

Some Theories

In addition to developing an interest in migration, anthropologists worked toward developing a theoretical approach that would suit their discipline. Part of developing a theory was answering key questions as to why people move, who these people are, and what happens to them after they move. Political scientists and economists are generally interested in the migration flows that exist between countries and how they are shaped by policy or by labor markets. They and others have used the push-pull theory, showing how overpopulation and environmental deterioration in rural areas is the “push” toward migration, and the allure or attraction of the city is the “pull” aspect. Push can explain migration for income betterment. The pull may be job opportunities in addition to a desire to see a new place or try one’s wings. Sociologists tend to looks at broader issues, the macro approach, concerned with the integration of migrating people into the existing population of a place. They focus on general studies of population, using categories such as race, sex, and occupation as the units of analysis. The microapproach looks at individuals and the reasons they choose to migrate. Anthropologists look at both the causes and effects of migration for sending and receiving societies and the effects of migration on the individual.

A recent viewpoint on migration that is appealing to anthropologists is the meso (societal) approach, looking at household and social networks as units of analysis. Rather than being strictly an economic decision, the decision to migrate is often shaped by social and cultural contexts, as was pointed out by Brian Du Toit (Du Toit & Safa, 1975). Individuals do not act on their own; families and households often shape decision making. This mesolevel, detailed by Thomas Faist (1997), encompasses social relations between individuals, families, neighborhoods, and friendship circles. These relationships form networks central to social relations. Many anthropologists see the network approach to migration as preferable to the economic, labor-needs approach. Migration is seen as embedded in social relations. The choice to migrate is determined by the experience of others, and the decision is made within a family. The move is assisted by relatives and friends. Douglas Massey and others suggest that networks promote migration, as each migration creates the social structure necessary to sustain it (Brettell, 2003). Over the years, different theories to explain migration have been used, amended, and sometimes rejected by anthropologists. Some of these are described below.

Modernization Theory

Much of the early work on migration within anthropology, up to about the mid-1970s, was influenced by the modernization theory. Originally developed around the turn of the 20th century, it was focused on development, as people flowed into the cities. An anthropological approach, developed by Robert Redfield in 1941, included a model that opposed city and country and contrasted two distinct ways of life: traditional and modern. Within this theory is a focus on migrants making rational and progressive economic decisions with respect to leaving where they are and choosing where to live. Migrants were viewed as progressives who would bring new ideas to their communities. The main unit of analysis was the individual migrant. Modernization theory splits causes of migration into the push factors associated with a traditional society and the pull factors of developed areas. It encompasses a model of development in which the forces of resources and population pressure are equal, relying on the push-pull concept. However, research by M. P. Todaro found that migration was not entirely progressive and that high urban unemployment was an unlooked-for result of rural to city migration (Kearney, 1986).

Dependency Theory

Dependency theory relates economic relationships and processes at national and international levels. The focus is on a single world capitalist system and is not seen as progressive in that it results in the impoverishment of less-developed countries. Since this theory does not focus on distinctive local communities but is instead broad (macro) in scope, it has not been useful for anthropologists for specific fieldwork projects. Dependency theory is concerned more with the extraction of surplus and less with the flow of cash and goods in the opposite direction. It has generally been incorporated into the world systems theory, a global system, based on an international division of labor, producing commodities traded worldwide.

Historical-Structural Theory

Another theory to explain why people migrate is the historical-structural approach, framing migration in the context of global economy. With its intellectual roots in Marxist political economy, this approach stresses the unequal distribution of economic and political power in the world economy, and migration is seen mainly as a way of mobilizing cheap labor for capital. The unit of analysis in this theory is not the individual migrant but the global market, and the theory explicates how national and international economic and political policies have disrupted, displaced, and even attracted local populations, developing different migration streams. Within this theory, the individual is not an active agent but is manipulated by the world capitalistic system. This theory does not take into account cultural factors.

Articulation Theory

Originally formulated by Marxist anthropologists in the early 1980s, this theory rejects the world system to focus on the community and household. This theory is more useful to the anthropologist doing fieldwork, as it identifies and isolates the domestic community. It theorizes how such communities are inserted historically and economically into the global world and narrows its focus to households. Concern with culture is central to this theory.


A new theory is based in the concept of transnationalism, a social process whereby migrants operate in social fields that transcend geographic, political, and cultural borders. From this perspective, migrants are no longer uprooted by crises and forced to move; rather, they move freely back and forth across international borders and between different cultures and social systems. These migrants bring both social and economic changes to local communities. Nina Glick Schiller, Linda Basch, and Christina Blanc-Szanton (1992) described transnationalism as a way to view globalization.

Types of Migrants

A basic way to study a discipline is to look at the types within that discipline. Since its beginnings as a comparative and cross-cultural science, anthropology has relied on typologies to develop theories on similarities and differences. There are numerous types of migration: national and international, voluntary and involuntary, legal and illegal, return migration and transmigration, seasonal and nonseasonal, and that represented by sojourners and settlers. In 1961, Nancy Gonzalez described six types of migration by laborers: seasonal, temporary, nonseasonal, recurrent, continuous, and permanent (Gonzalez, 1961). Different types continue to be differentiated. In 1989, Gonzalez added another type to her 1961 list: conflict migration, describing migration prompted by violent conflict at home (Gonzalez & McCommon, 1989). Economic conditions, political situations, environmental issues, and even gender determine the different types of migrants.


Types of migrations can be broadly classified as voluntary and involuntary. This type generally encompasses those who migrate for financial reasons, such as for jobs.


The most common migrant is the seasonal worker who travels, both nationally and internationally, to work, mostly in agricultural industries. Generally, the migration is temporary and driven by crops to be harvested. Such seasonal migrations have continued over the centuries. For example, through much of the 19th century, northern Italians migrated to nearby countries in the spring and returned home in the fall. This type of migration can be viewed as voluntary despite the fact that the migration is dictated by environmental and/or economic reasons. Seasonal migrants may also be described as recurrent, reflecting the generations of families who have traveled to pick crops.


Brian M. Du Toit discusses three types of temporary migrants, including the weekly commuter, the seasonal migrant who returns home, and the sojourner whose point of reference is back home in his village despite years spent in a city (Du Toit & Safa, 1975). Temporary migrants aspire to return home. A type of temporary worker is the guest worker, also called the gastarbeiter. In the post-World War II economic boom, almost all northern European countries actively recruited contract labor migrants, mostly men—Portuguese, Italian, Spaniards, Turks, and Yugoslavs—who traveled to northern European cities. These blue-collar migrants worked mainly in manufacturing and construction. The host countries expected that these workers would remain for a short period of time and then go home.

In the 1960s, to assuage a labor shortage, Turkish guest workers were recruited by the Foreign Labor Office on behalf of industries in West Germany. The program, which resulted in one of the largest migrant populations in western Europe, was supposed to be a temporary fix. Migrant workers were regarded as temporary labor units, which could be recruited, used, and sent away again once they were not needed by employers. In reality, many did not return home, and although the practice was discouraged by the West German government, their families joined them. Their presence caused a major problem as the “guests” began to establish ethnic communities. What started as a temporary migration resulted in a permanent residence. However, the social costs for providing housing, education, and health care for the migrant families became burdensome on the host communities. By 1974, such contract worker migrations to western Europe had ceased.

Permanent Migrants

Although originally these migrants plan to return home, they do not. If they are not successful in their new community, they may be ashamed to return home. Some marry local residents, and others may prefer the host society to home. Permanent migration might involve never returning to the home country or returning often and maintaining strong family and friendship networks. Some permanent migrants hold dual citizenship. These temporary-turned-permanent residents may be essential to social networks, providing support to newcomers. As these networks are established, so are communities of ethnic minorities, fueled by new arrivals and stabilized by permanent migrants.


These migrants plan to return to their home, but frequently this is postponed. Unlike those who migrate for a season, usually for agricultural work, those working in commerce or industry generally have no need to coordinate their length of stay with the seasons and may stay abroad for a number of years, depending on their purposes. In her study of Brazilians in New York City, Maxine Margolis (1995) noted that they see themselves as sojourners, temporarily in the United States to save money to fill a specific need back home, whether to buy an apartment, start a business, or return to school. Sojourners include technicians, engineers, and businessmen. Others are small retailers and middlemen who follow the migrants from their countries to supply them with goods and services. Many sojourners spend their working years abroad and return home to retire. Others do not return home, because they have made permanent homes aboard or because they fear oppression and violence in their home countries. Sojourners may have a major economic impact on their countries of origin by sending money home.


In 1977, the “new” topic of return migration was proposed for the annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association, to develop a conversation on Donald Bogue’s statement that for every migration stream there is a corresponding counterstream flowing in the opposite direction. The proposal was rejected, but a few years later the topic had become important in the discipline. George Gmelch, in 1980, defined return migration as the “movements of emigrants back to their homelands to resettle” (Gmelch, 1980, p. 136). Others, such as Nina Glick Schiller, discussed the relationship between return migration and the transnationalism of a global economy (Schiller, 1997). Return migrants do go back to live in their sending communities. Most studies show that strong family ties, rather than financial factors, determine the desire to return. Bad times at home can both push the migrants away and bring them back home. Sometimes the decision to return is influenced by negative or push factors in the host country. For example, Jamaican migrants in Britain encountered extreme racial prejudice and discrimination. Others decide to return due to an inability to adjust to a new climate. Those used to warm climates may be unable to adjust to the cold North American winters. When the economic prospects do not materialize and the migrant finds the streets are not paved with gold, he or she may be forced to return home.

On the positive side, returnees not only bring back money but may also bring back new skills, ideas, and lifestyles. Some settle with other returnees, being unable or unwilling to resume their place in their home country. Other returnees who were not financially successful in the host country return home to resume the life they had led before. Those who worked lower-level jobs abroad had no higher skills upon returning and generally will not migrate again. Returnees who move frequently between two or more places, such as in seasonal labor migration, may be referred to as circular migrants.


Involuntary migration, also called forced migration, is caused by human-made or natural disasters. National disasters may be crop failures, such as the one that resulted in the 19th-century potato famine in Ireland, earthquakes, floods, or volcanic eruptions. Human-made causes include war and the persecution of racial, ethnic, and religious groups, as well as political dissenters. In previous centuries, both indenture and slavery were types of forced migration. Even though those migrating as indentured servants or laborers may have been given the carrot of freedom after a number of years or signed a contract to receive a sum of money, often their lives were more like those of slaves. Slavery was forced migration; after the abolition of the slave trade in the early 19th century, this type of forced migration generally ended. Unfortunately, it still exists in the sex trade “industry.” By the time of World War II, the indenture system had basically ceased.


A continuing type of forced migrant is the refugee. Although most refugees decide to leave their countries of birth because of oppression, unlike slaves, they can choose where to go. Often that choice is linked with labor opportunities and/or existing social networks. In 2002, Ted Lewellen described the 20th century as the Age of Refugees, estimating that 100 million people have been uprooted by war and the threat of political violence during this time. Since the mid-1980s, the number of refugees has dramatically increased. According to the 1951 United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, a refugee is a person living outside of his or her country who either is unable or unwilling to return to the home country due to fear of persecution principally because of race, religion, or nationality. Once these types of migrants are officially recognized by the United Nations as refugees, they have a legal status and are protected by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, making them better off than other forced migrants.

In some instances, mass migrations of refugees may present a military threat to the host country. They certainly create a demand on the resources of host countries. The strain on a country’s social services and physical infrastructure as well as the impact on local economic conditions may destabilize developing countries. Gil Loescher, in 1995, noted that the great majority of refugees seek safety in the world’s poorest states (Cohen, 1995). There is also a concern that mass migration will alter the ethnic, cultural, religious, and linguistic composition of the host country.

The study of refugees by anthropologists is relatively recent. In 1988, the Committee on Refugees and Immigrants was established within the General Anthropology Division of the American Anthropological Association. Some scholars equate refugees with politics and others with environment, making the study of refugees complex.

Legal and Illegal (Undocumented)

Most migrant streams are “legal.” Migrants have permission to leave their regions and/or countries and to relocate to a new region and/or country. Yet there is a group that may be regarded as either legal or illegal. Between the early 1970s and the late 1990s, the numbers of people seeking political asylum increased greatly. Although many seeking asylum are rejected, a large share of those who apply for asylum are able to remain in the countries where they had applied for legal status. Some say the asylum seekers are “economic” migrants, looking for work rather than political asylum and abusing the asylum systems. Others argue that asylum seekers are genuine refugees. Appeals for legal status as a refugee may take years, leaving the seekers in a type of limbo. In some countries, they are not allowed to work. Illegal (undocumented) migrants are a growing concern, particularly for host countries. The potential for illegal flows is greatest in the areas where poor countries are near or share a common border with rich countries, such as between the United States and Mexico. Illegal workers tend to be low skilled and tend not to bring their families with them, for fear of increasing the probability of their illegal status being detected. With globalization, there has been an increase in illegal movements and people smuggling.

Chain Migration

Of increasing interest to anthropologists is chain migration, particularly the resultant social networks. Chain migration involves social arrangements that aid people moving from one place to another. It is the process by which prospective migrants learn of opportunities in a new place, are provided with transportation, and have initial accommodations and employment arranged by previous migrants. Complex networks provide information and support all along the line and are self-perpetuating as new networks form and expand through marriage and friendships. Some equate the network to a spider web rather than a chain, and many of these networks are extensive. One study of migrants in a single pueblo in Mexico found no less than 110 destinations in the United States. The linking of people from specific places of origin in one country to specific destinations in another can be viewed in the development of ethnic clusters in various neighborhoods. Studies have shown, for example, that Jewish immigrants from Poland settled in streets on the lower east side of New York different from the streets occupied by Jews from Russia, Hungary, and Romania. More than 90% of the immigrants to Australia during the first half of the 20th century came via the chain migration process. As labor markets expand beyond the boundaries of a particular nation, both companies and governments may look abroad for employees, skilled and unskilled. The migration policies of industrial democracies have given priorities to close family ties in selecting migrants for admission. Therefore, chain migration has become a dominant pattern in long-term migration.

Globalization and Transnationalism

Migration is part of the human story. It can be seen in stories of ancient peoples crossing the sea and in the 20th-century research of Thor Heyerdahl detailing the voyages of those traveling from South America westward on the Kon Tiki and those traveling eastward from Africa on the Ra. Within countries, people migrated from rural lands into developing cities. After 1870 and the development of the steamship and steam railroad networks, migration increased dramatically. This era of mass migration ended in 1914 with World War I. Following that war, there was a decline in migration, but after World War II, due to rapid and sustained economic growth, a new age of migration began. By the end of the 20th century and into the 21st, migration flows became more global in scope as well as more complex and diverse. The word globalization, as defined by Michael Kearney in 1995, refers to “social, economic, cultural, and demographic processes that take place within nations but also transcend them” (p. 548). Globalization relates to behaviors and to institutions that affect more than one state. It describes an intensification of worldwide social relations, linking distant places, with the result that local happenings are shaped by events occurring many miles away and vice versa. One of the central aspects of globalization is the growth of cross-border flows of people and the proliferation of social networks connecting migrants to their home communities.

National (Rural to City)

Some of the earliest waves of human migration in modern history were from the countryside into the developing cities or from one rural area to another. Past migrations have nearly depleted the countryside in industrialized countries. Some years ago, two thirds of the population in Latin America, Asia, and Africa lived in rural areas. A little more than a generation later, two thirds would be urban residents.

International (Global)

Modern international migration differs from that of previous centuries; in the 19th century, for example, migration was usually a one-way movement, with major streams of migrants leaving Europe and Asia for North America. Since the end of the Cold War, migration has taken on a more global aspect, partly due to the ease and speed of transportation as well as global communication. With the global explosion in mass communications since the late 1980s, particularly satellite television, many people in third world countries have become aware of the supposed affluent lifestyles of rich countries. Many are attracted to the consumer culture that appears available to them, and the costs of long-distance moves are within the reach of poor families, which was not the case 150 years ago.

Stephen Castles, in the book The Age of Migration, commented that international migration is “part of a transnational revolution that is reshaping societies and politics around the globe” (Castles & Miller, 1998, p. 5). International migration is also seen as a consequence of global inequalities in the distribution of wealth and power, and international migration flows are almost always from poor to richer countries. Types of migrants include not only permanent migrants, seasonal workers, and refugees but also students, military personnel, businessmen, and even tourists, since such short-term movements may lead to subsequent long-term ones. Unlike earlier waves of migration, current migrants are reflecting the worldwide shift from a rural agrarian base to an urban-industrial base in the economies of most third world countries. With the growth of multinational companies and international capital transfers, international movement of labor within firms and their foreign associates has become possible and basic to globalization.


In the 1960s, the word transnational referred to corporations with established bases in more than one state. The word evolved to also represent ideas and political institutions that went beyond national boundaries. Now, the meaning of the word transnational overlaps that of globalization but with a more limited scope. In the 1990s, the study of transnationalism as a system of migration became a focus of a group of anthropologists. In anthropology, transnationalism describes the flows of culture and population across national borders. It not only explores how immigrant populations adapt in new cities but also how they maintain connections with their societies of origin. Previous generations of migrants generally attempted to make a clean break from their home societies, but transnational migrants continue to maintain ties with the communities they left. With the rapid improvement in the technologies of transport and communication, it has become relatively easy for migrants to stay in touch with those back home. These developments also facilitate the growth of circular or repeated migrations, in which people migrate regularly between different places where they have economic, social, or cultural ties. Transnationalism also involves questions relating to ethnicity and ethnic identity. Basically, it updates the older assimilation model in which newcomers worked to become part of the existing culture. But it also addresses the potentially serious consequences for national identity, as some migrants are not willing to let go of their own ethnic identities and merge into or adopt into those of the receiving society.

Schiller, Basch, and Blanc, in their 1995 study of transnationalism, have detailed forces in the global economy that lead people to live transnational lives while migrating to countries that are centers of global capitalism. One such force is deteriorating social and economic conditions in both labor-sending and labor-receiving countries; another is racism in the host countries. A third force is nation building in both home and host societies, where political loyalties are encouraged in each nation-state where a migrant maintains social ties. Sometimes migrants become “long distance nationalists” in their devotion and connectedness to their “home” country.

Globalization and the New Migrants

Within a global world, migration is similar to the streams of the past, yet different. The former waves of mass migration were more a continual stream of people, traveling usually from underdeveloped third world countries to countries in which they could improve their economic and sometimes social status. Globalization has created a new migration market, organized by labor recruiters and migration agents who can make a profit from migration, whether legal or not. With globalization, new types of migrants have emerged.


Studies of globalization look at the connections that migrants maintain and build across international borders. As defined by Schiller, Basch, and Blanc, transmigrants are those whose “daily lives depend on multiple and constant interconnections across international borders and whose public identities are configured in relationship to more than one nation-state” (Schiller, Basch, & Blanc, 1995, p. 48). Transmigrants may hold dual citizenship in two or more countries. They maintain ties with their home countries and become involved with the economic, social, religious, and political spheres of both their sending communities and their host societies. Some home countries, such as Portugal, actively encourage the loyalty of their citizens abroad because of the benefits these migrants bring to the home country. Benefits include not only money sent to those back home but also the investments of citizens abroad in businesses and real estate in their home countries.

Brain Drain

Characteristic of globalization, migrant types include more skilled labor. These are the professionals, executives, technicians, and other highly skilled personnel who travel around the globe, sometimes on their own, marketing their skills for lucrative returns. Large international companies transfer skilled employees to different locations. Because some large employers have shifted production to places where production is possible at lower wage levels, usually in third world countries, they transfer managerial and technical staff to supervise operations. These migrants are usually university-trained people who move from less-developed to highly developed countries, and their leaving may lead to shortages of skilled personnel at home. Being a student is often a precursor to migration of skilled workers. Those students who leave their home countries for educational opportunities in developed countries stay on following graduation. Many students in developed countries are from Asia and have concentrations in business or information technology. Sometimes educated people migrate because they cannot find work in their home countries. Employers in receiving countries are eager to welcome skilled migrants; the reverse is generally true for the unskilled.


Although middleman minorities have been following migrant streams for decades, this type of migrant is particularly significant in a globalized world. These migrants include small retailers and international merchants. They are small-time money lenders, loan sharks, and international financiers. Middlemen facilitate the movement of goods between the producer and a specific set of consumers within a community in which others are the majority of the population.

There is a cultural difference between the middlemen and those they serve. Middleman minorities do not represent a particular race or culture. Some are Middle Eastern; some are Asians. Many live in cities, and their high levels of concentration in one or a few cities in each country suggest a social need for contact with their fellow middlemen. With the passage of time and acculturation of later generations to the world of the host society, these concentrations lessen.

Some believe middlemen are parasites, preying on those ignorant to the ways of their new communities. Many feel that making money by simply transferring a product to the consumer without changing the product but charging more for it is morally wrong. For example, money lenders who demand to be repaid more money than they lent have been condemned through the ages.


Diaspora is a term used to describe practically any population that is considered “deterritorialized” or transnational. This word often implies a forced dispersal of people, as well as an emotional relation to the homeland. These populations have originated in lands other than those in which they currently reside, and their social, economic, and political networks cross the borders of nation-states and may even span the globe. At one time the term The Diaspora referred almost exclusively to the experiences over the ages of the Jewish people, exiled from their homeland and dispersed throughout the world, with always the dream of return. More recently, the term has been applied to other populations, such as the Armenians and even the Palestinians. Although globally dispersed, diaspora populations are self-identified ethnic groups. In some cases, the sense of commonality on a worldwide scale provides a key to their success in the new global economy as they pool resources, transfer credit, and invest capital within the organizations they create and within families and extended family. However, the people maintain a collective memory or a dream of their ancestral home to which they long to return. If the homeland no longer exists, they are committed to restore it. They are generally not accepted within the countries where they have settled.

Further Directions

Because of the rising significance of migration in political, economic, and security concerns, interest in migration theory and research has increased. Current research is less focused on migration flows and more on how people react to a global society and how globalization has impacted adaptation and cultural changes. Such research in the field of anthropology has focused on questions of identity and ethnicity as well as community and social networks, kinship structure and family migration strategies, and gender as it relates to migration.


Networks are a relatively new topic of study for migration scholars and are important in that they play critical roles in a person’s decision to migrate and his or her success in the host country. Not simply groups of family and friends who provide information, resources, and assistance to migrants, networks are more far reaching. Migration networks can consist of institutions as well as individuals and be national as well as transnational in scope. Networks can include multinational corporations, recruitment and travel agencies, government institutions, and financial institutions. The networks help with expenses, they aid the migrant in adaptation into the new society, and they maintain links to the original society. Douglas Gurak and Fe Caces (1992) have studied the various functions of migrant networks, including linking communities of origin and destination, serving as channels for information, and insulating migrants from the negative aspects of living in the host society as well as aiding in their adaptation to it.

Migration has become an industry due to these developing social networks and transnational links. Many people make their living organizing both legal and illegal movements of people. Travel agents, labor recruiters, brokers, and lawyers specializing in immigration law focus on legal migrants. Others who smuggle humans across borders focus on the illegals. Some institutions, such as banks that set up special transfer facilities, help migrants to send earnings (remittances) back home. Shopkeepers, priests, teachers, and other community leaders work to facilitate the well-being of the migrant.

Yet there are those who prey on migrants. Part of the migration industry is organizations devoted to smuggling and trafficking migrants. The difference is that smuggling is illegal and for profit, yet the migrants are knowing partners in a commercial transaction: paying exorbitant fees to be secretly moved across borders or landed on foreign shores. Human trafficking implies sale of a person’s sexual services or labor in the country of destination. The trafficking of women and children for the sex industry is a global enterprise.


In the 1960s, feminists declared that women were hidden from history. This is also true with the study of migration, and a major new focus in anthropology relates to gender, specifically the migration of women. Historically the study of migration related to the movement of men. It was assumed that women migrated as wives or daughters or as the second of a two-step male-female process: The man migrated first, established himself, and then sent funds enabling his wife and family to join him. Some women waited at home for husbands or fiancés working somewhere else, trying to improve their finances.

The reality is that some women migrated alone, as adults, seeking jobs or land. Some, once established in a new place, refused to return home because of personal gains they had made in the new country. Such is the case with Christian nurses from the state of Kerala in India. There, traditionally, the profession of nursing for women was considered “dirty” because it was forbidden to speak with unrelated men. Yet nursing has become a path of upward mobility and independence for women. Rather than remain in India, subject to low status, low pay, and dismal working conditions in Indian hospitals, nurses have migrated to the United States. Such a migration is a reversal of gender roles, because the woman moves first to become the breadwinner. Husbands and families follow.

Brettell (2003) noted that in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, migration patterns have changed. Often women are the first to migrate, and in some international migration streams, they outnumber the men. She cites studies of Caribbean women migrating to the United States to illustrate her point and mentions that the increasing numbers of women involved in both internal and international migration flows have led some scholars to write extensively on the feminization of migration. Women who migrate may become domestic workers, may work on assembly lines for multinational industries, or may labor as garment workers, and young women may become prostitutes as part of the growing global sex industry.

Another aspect of gender and migration has to do with those women who remain at home and become the heads of households in the absence of their men. They are empowered by having to deal with issues of daily life as well as crises, and they have a break from childbearing. When the husband is sending back money, their economic situation improves.


For thousands of years, migration has been a major social phenomenon. Although modern migrations are not as dramatic as the earlier migrations when people took often terrifying journeys, forced and by choice, migration during the 21st century is vital to the globalization of the world. Yet moving continues to have many and often heavy costs that are not just financial. To go to a new place searching for work or a new home involves severing ties to family and familiar places. Dangers today are not those encountered in previous centuries as people were crammed into wooden ships that were at the mercy of storms and rough seas. Today’s migrants are subjected to increasingly stringent immigration policies, and they are scrutinized and often feared by residents of the host country.

Migrants, in addition to their varied aptitudes for labor, bring their culture from their countries of origin. Yet over the years, migration has continued to be from poorer countries to more prosperous ones. Few American engineers and doctors migrate to poor countries. India sends engineers and physicians to the United States, but lower-skilled contract labor goes to the Middle East. The political and economic impact of migration on both sending and host countries is substantial. As some countries lose a vital, skilled labor force, other countries are impacted by unskilled labor forces in need of jobs. Politically, migration policies have been developed and rewritten because of changes in the types of migrants.

Migration is no longer limited to shifts of families from country to city but now involves wholesale population movements across national boundaries and into different cultures and economies. By the end of the 20th century, worldwide, there were about 100 million people residing outside their countries of citizenship. The causes and consequences of migration have changed since before World War I. And unlike in the past, migration flows now go mainly between countries in the global South. Flows toward the global North face increasing restrictive immigration controls from governments.

The 21st century has been called the Age of Migration. Migration has changed the world and many of its societies. Both developed and less-developed countries have become more culturally diverse. Ethnic diversity, prompted by migration, has been welcomed in some areas and seen as a threat in others. The extreme example is ethnic cleansing. Although many saw the emergence of international migration as a force for social change, others saw it as a source of conflict. Problems of diverse ethnic groups living together and increasing difficulties with immigration policies and security are also characteristic of this age. One aspect of this problem is that modern migrants reject assimilation as a mode of adaptation. They do not want to be part of a melting pot, like those of previous centuries; they wish to maintain their own ethnic identity within a new multicultural world.