Oslo Summer School in Comparative Social Science Studies 1996

Moving and Returning: Comparative Migration Theory

Main disciplines: Economics, Human Geography
Lecturer: Professor Oded Stark
Institution: University of Oslo, Norway, and University of Vienna, Austria
Dates: 29 July - 2 August, 1996

This course models labor migration and various phenomena and processes associated with it. It builds on three premises: First, although the entities that engage in migration are often individual agents, there is more to labor migration than individualistic behavior. Migration by one person can be undertaken in pursuit of rational optimizing behavior by a group of persons such as the family. Second, there is more to labor migration than a response to wage differentials. Third, a great many migratory phenomena would not have occurred if the set of markets and financial institutions were perfect and complete. The course attempts to explain labor migration in the light of these three premises and their interactions. It offers insights on why and when entities such as families may find it optimal to behave strategically, to act simultaneously in and to distribute their human capital across several markets, and to sequence their actions in a particular fashion.

The course demonstrates how migration is ingeniously and efficiently harnessed to assume a variety of tasks. It also takes a look at how migratory outcomes are fed back into and modify the very market environments that stimulated migration. Finally, the course studies return migration. Quite often the duration of labor migration is shorter than the duration of working life. If agents choose where to apply their labor freely, though not necessarily costlessly, in a world consisting of two countries, or in a country consisting of two locations, the preceding sentence implies return migration. Why do migrants return? What determines which workers stay and which return? The course outlines models of return migration some not associated with reversal of the inter country or intersectoral wage differential and seeks to characterize the returnees.

Essential readings