The Market Value of Friendship: Social Networks of Immigrants

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ABSTRACT/RESUME

Recent research has pointed to the significance of social capital in the dynamics of international migration, from initiating the process of migration to the settlement and success of immigrants in host countries. Particularly, it has been argued that, due to their minority status, immigrants tend to rely more heavily on their communities and social networks, and that this compensates for other disadvantages in their new homes. Empirical research on this topic, however, is predominately American. We have attempted to address this gap in the Canadian scholarship on immigrant integration by studying the nature of the social networks of immigrants, as compared to the native-born, as well as the pay-off to such networks. This study is based on data from a nation-wide survey of about 600 people, both immigrants and non-immigrants, living in fourteen Canadian cities. Our findings show that, despite the above-mentioned argument, social networks of immigrants are inferior to those of the native-born in many important aspects; they also yield smaller pay-offs. Policy implications of the findings are discussed.

Des etudes recentes ont souligne l'importance du capital social dans le contexte de la migration internationale, de l'enclenchement du processus de la migration a l'etablissement et a la reussite des immigrants dans leurs pays d'accueil. On affirme notamment que les immigrants dependent plus sur leurs communautes et leurs reseaux sociaux afin de compenser pour d'autres desavantages qu'ils vivent dans leur pays d'accueil. Toutefois la majorite des etudes empiriques portant sur ce sujet sont americaines. Nous avons tente de combler ce manque dans les etudes canadiennes en examinant la nature des reseaux sociaux des immigrants, compares a ceux d'individus nes au Canada, aussi bien que les bienfaits tires de ces reseaux. Cette etude se base sur des donnees d'un sondage effectue aupres d'environ 600 individus, immigrants et natifs, residant dans 14 villes canadiennes. Les resultats demontrent que malgre l'argument mentionne ci-haut, les reseaux sociaux des immigrants sont moins importants que ceux des individus nes au Canada, et ce, selon plusieurs aspects importants, ils sont egalement moins rentables. L'etude se penche egalement sur les consequences en matiere de politiques.

INTRODUCTION

Studies of social networks are not new; however, there has been a recent rekindling of interest in the topic as a result of the rising popularity of the concept of social capital. The main thrust of the fast-burgeoning literature on social capital is the simple and intuitively sensible idea that our lives are influenced, not merely by how much we know and what we possess, but also by who we know (Lin et. al. 2001).

Canadian Ethnic Studies/Etudes ethniques au Canada XXXVIII, No. 2, 2006 This is to say that the nature of our social relations with others--either in our immediate community or in society at large--has significant implications for the type of lives we live.

Examination of social networks is at the heart of any study on social capital. As Coleman (1988, $98) argues, social capital has no finite basis, as does physical capital, nor does it have observable bases, as is the case with human capital. Instead, the essence of social capital is "in the structure of relations between actors and among actors." This means that any study of social capital that does not account for social networks will remain incomplete. Despite this centrality, however, the number of studies that have focussed on social networks is very limited, due partly to the fluid nature of social relationships and the difficulty of capturing their dynamics.

Existing studies on the consequences of social networks have covered a wide spectrum, ranging from affecting nation-wide trends to influencing individual life chances. Some, for instance, have considered the impact of social relations (or, social capital) on the macro-economic developments of society (Putnam 1993; Fukuyama 1995; Woolcock 1998); others have studied its implications for a society's political structure (Putnam 1995, 2000); a third group have focussed on the consequences of social capital for an individual's chances of finding a job (Granovetter 1974; Lin 1999; Fernandez et. …