Who Goes Next? The Gendered Expansion of Mexican and Senegalese Migrant Sibling Networks in Space and Time

Date01 July 2019
Published date01 July 2019
146 ANNALS, AAPSS, 684, July 2019
DOI: 10.1177/0002716219856544
Who Goes
Next? The
Expansion of
Mexican and
Migrant Sibling
Networks in
Space and Time
The migration literature shows that individuals whose
siblings have migrated abroad are more likely to
migrate, yet we know little about sibling migrant net-
works. We use MMP and MAFE-Senegal survey data
to compare migration patterns in two very disparate
contexts (Mexico and Senegal) in an attempt to assess
the scope, manner, and generalizability of sibling net-
work migration patterns. Our results show that while
Senegalese families are likely to have one international
migrant, Mexican families are likely to send two or
more members abroad. Sibling migrations from Mexico
fall closer together in time than do those from Senegal,
suggesting joint sibling migration. Also, while Mexican
sibling networks did not seem to contribute to the
expansion of Mexican migrant destinations, Senegalese
sibling networks did contribute (slightly) to the expan-
sion of Senegalese migration. Sibling networks in both
settings contributed considerably to the feminization of
Keywords: migration; family; gender; siblings; geog-
raphy; Mexico; Senegal
One of the most consistent findings of
empirical migration research around the
globe is that people are considerably more
likely to migrate internationally when they are
connected to other individuals who have moved
abroad before: these people include fellow
community members, acquaintances, friends,
or relatives (Boyd 1989; Liu 2013; Massey and
Aysa-Lastra 2011; Massey and Riosmena 2010).
Correspondence: mao-mei_liu@berkeley.edu
Fernando Riosmena is an associate professor at the
Population Program and the Geography Department at
the University of Colorado at Boulder and associate
director of the University of the Colorado Population
Center. His research focuses on the theories, drivers,
and empirical measurement of human migration, with
a particular focus on the social, economic, policy, and
environmental factors affecting migration between
Mexico and the United States.
Prior migrants can provide general as well as destination- or labor market-
specific social capital to prospective migrants (Portes 1998) and are likely sources
of potential or actual resources—information, job connections, or other forms of
settlement assistance—that facilitate the migration of new arrivals to settlement
and destination areas (Flores-Yeffal 2013; Menjívar 2000; Sue etal. 2018).
People in sending communities often have access to such social capital since
migrants-to-be and previous migrants are normatively bound to help each other
via reciprocity or mutually enforceable trust rules stemming from their member-
ship and position in more or less durable networks of institutionalized relation-
ships (Portes 1998). Of these, blood connections are exceptionally important,
with sibling ties being perhaps the most valuable. Research shows that brothers
and sisters stand out as being particularly effective in facilitating the subsequent
migrations of their siblings (Palloni et al. 2001; Massey and Espinosa 1997;
Massey and Aysa-Lastra 2011; Liu 2013).
Individuals may be more likely to draw on social capital emanating from sib-
ling ties since strong normative expectations generally require that brothers and
sisters help one another in times of need; this norm continues to exist in most, if
not all, societies, especially in low- and middle-income nations (e.g., Cicirelli
1994). This process is often highly gendered (Curran and Saguy 2001), with
brothers being most likely to receive help from a migrant sibling of either sex,
and brothers being most likely to sponsor one other (Curran and Rivero-Fuentes
2003; Liu, Riosmena, and Creighton 2018). As such, sibling networks are funda-
mental conduits by which broader migrant networks expand over both time and
The sequential migration of siblings—where siblings subsequently migrate to
the same destination with help from siblings who previously migrated—is clearly
in line with social capital theory (Portes 1998; Massey etal. 1993). However, it may
or may not be consistent with other theoretical models such as the new economics
of labor migration (NELM), in which migration is seen as a strategy used by fami-
lies to diversify their exposure to risk (e.g., that stemming from economic uncer-
tainty, political upheaval, or environmental change) by distributing their labor
resources across geographically distinct markets (Massey etal. 1993; Taylor 1986;
Sana and Massey 2005; Stark and Bloom 1985). Although many different patterns
of temporal spacing and geographic sequencing in the migration of siblings are
consistent with coordinated decision-making on the part of family members, the
diversification of risk requires different siblings to migrate either to different loca-
tions at one point in time or to the same location at different points in time to be
effective (Borjas and Bronars 1991; Palloni etal. 2001), underscoring the impor-
tance of timing and sequencing underlying motivations for migration.2
Mao-Mei Liu is assistant director of Cal-ADAR and a lecturer in sociology at the University of
California, Berkeley. Her work falls at the intersection of migration, social demography, and
the sociology of families and seeks to understand why and how people migrate. Her research
to date has largely focused on contemporary migration between sub-Saharan Africa and
NOTE: Authors contributed equally. Author names listed in reverse alphabetical order.

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