Social remittances

Migration may affect sending countries not only through economic mechanisms such as labour markets or remittances. In many cases - particularly when migrants retain close links with sending communities or return to their places of origin - the socio-cultural impacts of migration, or “social remittances”, should also be considered. According to de Haas (2009), migration involves not only flows of people but also flows of ideas, norms etc. Migration may thus alter socio-economic structures in sending communities (social, class and ethnic hierarchies), traditional care arrangements, family structure, gender relations or particular modes of behaviour (culture of migration, entrepreneurship).

In light of the relatively large scale of return migration to Poland, such cultural changes may be expected, but have not been studied extensively so far. As shown by Gmaj and Malek (2010), many returnees surveyed stated that they have learned a new organisational culture which may be useful in old or new working environments. According to Social Diagnosis3 data, persons with migration experience assess their chances on the Polish labour market in a more positive way than non-migrants, are more self-confident, open minded and ready to accept different lifestyles, but are relatively critical towards religious or political authority.

A closer look at the data reveals however, that return migrants share roughly the same characteristics as non-migrants, often contrary to expectations. For example, the average number of close friends amounted to 7.1 in case of returnees and 6.9 in case of non-migrants; return migrants and non-migrants similarly assessed the impact of foreigners on Poland (“Foreigners do have too much impact on life in Poland” - the average score, on a scale of 1 to 7, was as high as 4.6 for return migrants and 4.4 for non-migrants); or level of self-responsibility (“Everyone is responsible for his own life” - 2.34 and 2.37, respectively). Tables 5.3-5.5 present other examples (to avoid problems with self-selection and provide a robustness check, columns 4 and 5 include information on persons aged 18-35 years only).4

Table 5.3. Assessment of one’s own life

Percentages

How do you feel?

Total population

18-35 year-olds

Non-migrants

Returnees

Non-migrants

Return migrants

Very happy Fairly happy Not so happy Unhappy

  • 9.6 70.7 18.1
  • 1.6
  • 15.9
  • 63
  • 19.8
  • 1.4
  • 15.6
  • 71.8
  • 12
  • 0.7
  • 18.9
  • 60.1
  • 19.1
  • 1

Number of observations

25 604

816

8 719

494

Source: Author’s calculations based on data from Social Diagnosis.

As shown above, generally return migrants assess their own life more positively: the share of those declaring themselves “very happy” was 9.6% among non-migrants and about 16% among returnees. Nevertheless, when we limit our analysis to persons aged 18-35, those differences are much smaller (15.6 and 18.9 respectively).

Table 5.4. Assessment of socio-economic reforms started in 1989

Percentages

How do you assess the socioeconomic transition in Poland?

Total population

18-35 year-olds

Non-migrants Return migrants

Non-migrants Return migrants

Successful Not successful Difficult to say

  • 13.8 14.8
  • 36.6 33.7
  • 49.6 51.5

14.5 12.6 19.8 26.1 65.7 61.3

Number of observations

25604 816

8 719 494

Source: Author’s calculations based on data from Social Diagnosis.

As can be seen in Table 5.4, young return migrants seem to be far more critical with regard to the socio-economic transition than young non-migrants. Last but not least, Table 5.5 summarises the assessment of main factors responsible for a person’s life. Interestingly, returnees tend to believe in the power of authorities (policy makers, government representatives) more than non-migrants and also in their own power to change reality. Nevertheless, comparison of persons aged 18-35 reveals an (unexpected?) similarity between the responses obtained from the two groups.

Table 5.5. Main factors responsible for one’s own life

Percentages of positive answers

My life depends on:

Total population

18-35 year-olds

Non-migrants

Return migrants

Non-migrants

Return migrants

Government/policy makers Other people Fate / God My own

  • 7.9
  • 26.2
  • 41.8
  • 71.4
  • 9.8 24.2 36.6
  • 73.8
  • 6.3
  • 32.6
  • 33.4
  • 79.9
  • 8.7
  • 25.9
  • 42.8
  • 73.1

Number of observations

25 604

816

8 719

494

Source: Author’s calculations based on data from Social Diagnosis.

The analysis of Social Diagnosis data suggests that social remittances appear to be a limited phenomenon, which is, at any rate, difficult to ascertain. Conceivably, in the case of Poland, the recent nature of the social processes in question means that potential effects may become visible only in the longer term.

 
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