The Cumulative Causation Theory

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One additional approach that is classified between the meso-theories is the cumulative causation theory. The Cumulative Causation Theory was developed by Gunnar Myrdal in 1957. It was further developed by D. J. Massey and his colleagues. The theory explains as to why a migration flow begins and continues to grow.

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Causality is cumulative when every migratory action changes the social context in which, later in time, other migratory decisions take place. It affects the context so that additional individuals are likely to migrate. Social scientists discussed about six potential socio-economic factors which have a potential impact on migrations in a cumulative fashion:

  • Income distribution: higher levels of income, in absolute terms, and diversification of risks are not the only reasons why individuals tend to migrate. They take this decision also to increase their relative income, which is measured on the basis of their social reference group (relative deprivation);
  • Distribution of land: buying a land guarantees personal prestige, and it is also a good source of income for the retirement days. Secondarily, it represents a productive investment;
  • Organisation of agricultural production: the use of capital-intensive methods is more common for migrants, than for non-migrants.
  • Culture of migration: the higher the impact of migration on a community, the more cultural values and perceptions are subject to change, leading to an increase in the probability to migrate;
  • Regional distribution of human capital: in the initial phase, the self-selection process of migration causes an depletion of human capital in the areas affected by depopulation;
  • Social labels: occupations recognised as ‘jobs for immigrants’, due to the high concentration of foreign labour force in a specific activity.

Briefly, the cumulative causation theory explains how the trend of migration outflows increases over time, since the first migrant provides social capital to relatives, friends and others in the country of origin, encouraging them to find jobs easily and minimise their risks in destination countries. This situation stimulates and influences people to migrate more and more.

In conclusion, it is worth mentioning another theory that contributed to analyse migration theories at a meso-level: the institutional theory.

At the beginning of international migrations, a number of private institutions and organisations were set up to satisfy the requests resulting from the imbalance between the big amount of migrants flowing to developed countries and the limited labour supply provided by these labour-receiving countries. This mismatch fosters the creation of a specific niche in the clandestine economic market based on illegal activities (i.e. counterfeiting of travel documents, arrangement of marriages between migrants and legal citizens) and the exploitation of foreigners at low wages.

As a result, profit-seeking organizations often engage in illegal behaviour, while not-for-profit institutions provide relief to the affected migrants by means of counselling, social services, legal advice, awareness on immigration laws etc.

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The Cumulative Causation Theory. (2021, Dec 29). Retrieved January 29, 2023 , from

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