Wednesday, 2 January 2008

Pushme Pullme

Economic historians like to talk about push and pull factors for migration. A lot of migration historians writing in the American context focus on pull factors – the reasons why people would be attracted to a country, specifically theirs. However, as I have written before, there are also a lot of push factors operating in migration. These push and pull factors change in significance at various times. According to Simone Wegge at CUNY, early German migration from Hesse to the United States was governed by factors such as economic status in Germany, inheritance style of each area (property institutions), skills and family links with earlier migrants. In the later half of the nineteenth century, relationships with previous migrants became the most important factor influencing the decision to migrate. Thus, migration in the 1840s and 50s was mainly affected by push factors and migration in the 1870s by pull factors like having family members or people from your village already settled in an area.

Wegge’s work is interesting because she looks at migrant self-selection, that is what made people choose to migrate. By looking at 50,000 migrant records she found that artisans were more heavily represented than farmers and labourers as well as wealthier people. The very poor could not afford to migrate and the rich didn’t need to. The artisan had money and transferable skills and was not tied to the land.

Areas that practiced impartible inheritance had higher migration rates. That is, when property was handed down in one piece to the oldest child or son, younger children had no expectations and less reason to stay. This was particularly relevant for British migrants to Australia. Many a younger son, not just the black sheep, found their way to the new colony. Wegge also found that those who inherited property often compensated their siblings with cash payments that could then be used by them to migrate.

Women migrated both to be with family and also to more easily find partners. Marriage in Europe was a serious matter in which the prospective husband had to prove economic viability. Sometimes marriage was easier in a new country without such constraints. After all, everyone was finding their way and trying to make a new life and old ways of doing things were not always carried over.

Wegge’s research supports my idea of the Jaeckels as a family unit, supported by a skill (baking), with a sound but not affluent financial background. The Jaeckels are exactly the kind of family that could make an independent decision to migrate and to try to make their way in a new land.

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