Princeton University Library Catalog

The Enclave Economy and Trajectories of Economic Mobility among Mexican Immigrants

Yu, Jiayan [Browse]
Senior thesis
Massey, Douglas [Browse]
Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs [Browse]
Class year:
122 pages
Summary note:
Contemporary debates on immigration often hinge upon the economic impact of immigrants in receiving societies. To this extent, the majority of sociological research on patterns of economic behavior among Mexican immigrants editorializes Mexican immigrants as an undereducated, low-wage labor flow that, at best, fills menial positions in peripheral areas of the economy or, at worst, outcompetes American workers and threatens to undo the fabric of the American economy and society. This thesis casts a critical eye on these accounts by evaluating the extent to which in Mexican immigrants participate in productive, self-sufficient enclave economies, local networks of immigrant businesses that hire immigrant labor and that are rooted upon economic and competitive advantages that accrue from immigrant social networks. I ground my analysis in the precepts of segmented assimilation theory, which links the varying characteristics of immigrant streams and contexts of immigrant reception by host societies to canalized pathways of economic assimilation across immigrant groups. By applying this theoretical framework to the case of Mexico-U.S. migration, I identify how U.S. immigration policies counterproductively perpetuate undocumented Mexican migration while needlessly imposing onerous legal, economic, and social constraints on the ability of Mexican undocumented immigrants to adapt to the U.S. labor market. A preliminary analysis of data drawn from the Mexican Migration Project (MMP) confirms this account, finding strong evidence of patterns of downward socioeconomic mobility and degraded, low-status employment among Mexican immigrants as a group. However, despite these trends and despite the existence of an overwhelmingly hostile immigration infrastructure, I also identify a Mexican enclave economy with distinct patterns of occupational and economic diversification that align strongly with prototypical features of the enclave economy in previous sociological research. From this, I focus my research on a series of core research questions: First, to what extent does a genuine enclave economy exist among the Mexican immigrant population? Second, what impact does employment in the enclave have on the economic welfare and mobility of Mexican immigrants? And third, how do structural and demographic trends mediate incorporation of Mexican immigrants into the enclave labor market and, by extension, how do dynamics of labor market participation differ between the enclave and mainstream economy? Several regression models that draw upon MMP data elucidate research questions. My results find that enclave employment correlates positively with hourly wages and wage-based hourly returns to human capital. Furthermore, I find strong evidence for the stratification of socioeconomic outcomes across distinct sectors of the labor market. Additionally, consistent with enclave theory, multinomial regression modeling shows that immigrants are positively allocated into enclave economy employment on the basis of their membership in densely interwoven immigrant social networks. Notably, patterns of allocation into the enclave labor market are stratified between documented, undocumented, and temporary migrant streams, suggesting that patterns of labor market mobility are strongly constrained by the legal status of immigrants. As a whole, these findings strongly portray a Mexican enclave economy that has a meaningful positive impact on the socioeconomic mobility of Mexican immigrants and that serves a protecting function for socioeconomically and legally vulnerable groups, including undocumented and temporary immigrants. However, this enclave is strongly constrained by the hostile context of reception that Mexican immigrants have received in America.