Social Mobility During Lifetime Migration: Transition and Self-selection

Studies on migrants’ mobility over the life course have not considered migration stages over a lifetime. This article examines migrants’ occupational attainment from migration over a lifetime, situating their mobility within frameworks of life-course transition and self-selection. I begin by identifying meaningful migration stages over lifetime migration. I then test the two main paths to occupational mobility—the likelihood of reaching migration stages and change in occupational attainment in each migration stage. Relying on the case of Mexico-US migration, I find evidence of self-selection advantage and cumulative advantage/disadvantage (CAD) processes. Migrants self-select into migration stages, and the gain in occupational attainment is limited over the stages. Documentation status, skills, and aspirations show a strong cumulative advantage process. Demographic characteristics, migration characteristics, and family social capital have early but lasting effects. Overall, my findings suggest that while there is limited occupational mobility for migrants through migration stages alone, there are mechanisms to overcome the barriers to realizing significant breakthroughs in occupational attainment above those that occur at migration stages. Finally, comparing the transition approach with the pattern approach, I show that the pattern approach is valuable but cannot explore migrants’ mobility over lifetime migration.


Zhenxiang Chen is a Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of Sociology at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA). He received his B.A. in Economics, Mathematics, and International Studies from the University of Wisconsin Madison, a Master of Public Policy, and an M.A. in Sociology from UCLA. His research focuses on social stratification, mobility, and inequality of migrants, with an emphasis on life course and social psychology. His research has mostly centered on migration in China. Methodologically, he is interested in causal inference and using quantitative, computational, and experimental methods to answer research questions.

Speaker(s) Mr Zhenxiang CHEN
PhD Candidate, Department of Sociology, UCLA
Date 19 Jan 2021 (Tuesday)
Time 12:00 noon
Venue Online via Zoom(link will be sent via email)

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