Global Migration and the Segregated Structure of International Politics

Committee: Christopher Gelpi (Co-Chair), Alexander Wendt (Co-Chair), Bear Braumoeller, William Minozzi, Inés Valdez

Summary: In this project, I measure racial bias in international migration flows, and I theorize how the institution of sovereignty provides cover for states to enact discriminatory policies despite the elimination of formal racial migration quotas after decolonization. In so doing, I argue that the expansion of sovereignty after 1945 was not an unqualified good. Instead, this expansion continues to perpetuate international inequalities. To warrant this claim, I develop the first ever method for inferring racial bias in the international system. I focus on measuring racial bias in international migration flows because scholars from all subfields of political science agree that racism and xenophobia affect migration processes. However, they lack a way to measure this prejudice because most states eliminated de jure racial migration policies in the 1960s. To infer racial bias, I rely on a novel measurement strategy. Using this measure, I yield three main findings. First, I show that migrants from the Global South—particularly Sub-Saharan Africa—migrate far less than we would expect under a racially blind model. This descriptive result suggests the existence of a global hierarchy of movement. Second, I find evidence for a "negative incentive effect" whereby less emigration leads to less human capital accumulation and economic development in source countries. Just as the prospect of emigration can incentivize citizens to acquire education to take advantage of higher wages abroad, less emigration can lead to the opposite. Finally, this effect is unambiguous for the non-white states of the Global South.  Not only do would-be migrants from these states move far less than expected, it is in these states where the negative effects on economic development are the most pronounced. Therefore, contrary to expectations, I dismiss the longstanding argument that emigration hampers economic development—via a “brain drain”—in the developing world, and instead can narrow the racial inequality gap.

The measure I use to infer racial bias in the international system is called the migration deviation. The migration deviation measures how many fewer (or more) people migrated between every state in the world from 1960 to 2010. In the interactive graphic below, I present the migration deviation between the world's regions over this time period. Note how migrants from Sub-Saharan Africa move systematically less relative to our expectations in each period, and this disparity has increased in recent years.  

For example, from 2006 to 2010, I estimate that 11,135 fewer people emigrated from Sub-Saharan Africa than a baseline model of migration predicts. Roughly 1,500 fewer people migrated from Sub-Saharan Africa to Northern Europe during the same period.