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A Social Proximity Explanation of the Reluctance to Assimilate

  • C. Simon Fan
  • Oded Stark

The pursuit of migration is an extreme example of the severing of ties with, or a distancing from, one's friends and home. The 'failure' of migrants to assimilate cannot plausibly be attributed merely to an urge to stay close to their friends, or they might not have migrated to begin with. Non-assimilation arises from a fear of enhanced relative deprivation if they reduce their distance from the natives as a reference group. Fundamentally, migration is a change of those with whom people associate. But it would be wrong to infer that a change of associates crowds out a change of behavior, given the associates. Through their actions, migrants can elect to associate more with some groups, less with others. However, when actions to keep in check the weight accorded to the rich natives as a reference group are not viable, the very choice of migration destination could be affected in an unexpected way: a country that is not so rich could be preferable to a country that is rich; migrants will protect themselves from an unfavorable comparison by not migrating to where the comparison, when unavoidable, would be highly unfavorable. Relatedly, the variance in the assimilation effort of migrants across host countries could arise from the variance in the income distance with the natives: the richer the natives, the weaker the effort to assimilate, other things held the same. Copyright 2007 Blackwell Publishing Ltd..

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Article provided by Wiley Blackwell in its journal Kyklos.

Volume (Year): 60 (2007)
Issue (Month): 1 (02)
Pages: 55-63

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Handle: RePEc:bla:kyklos:v:60:y:2007:i:1:p:55-63
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  1. George A. Akerlof, 1997. "Social Distance and Social Decisions," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 65(5), pages 1005-1028, September.
  2. Yitzhaki, Shlomo, 1979. "Relative Deprivation and the Gini Coefficient," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 93(2), pages 321-24, May.
  3. Borjas, George J & Bronars, Stephen G & Trejo, Stephen J, 1992. "Assimilation and the Earnings of Young Internal Migrants," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 74(1), pages 170-75, February.
  4. Erzo F. P. Luttmer, 2005. "Neighbors as Negatives: Relative Earnings and Well-Being," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 120(3), pages 963-1002, August.
  5. Edward P. Lazear, 1999. "Culture and Language," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 107(S6), pages S95-S126, December.
  6. George A. Akerlof & Rachel E. Kranton, 2000. "Economics And Identity," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 115(3), pages 715-753, August.
  7. Christine Eibner & William N. Evans, 2005. "Relative Deprivation, Poor Health Habits, and Mortality," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 40(3).
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