The impact of social capital on the human well-being: Refugees and immigrants (Books Review)

The phenomenon of transnational immigration at the United States is a complicated issue. Many of researchers start to acknowledge this subject by providing the framework for social, cultural, political and economic contexts. One of the assumptions characterizing migration: are that social ties are always supportive especially within the family and the supportive movement. The second is that social tie components (obligation, trustworthiness and norms) help in supporting network and reinforce the quality of these social ties. These processes have determined the importance of social networks and social interactions as resources for human well-being.

Thus my article highlights social kinship between immigrants inside the family and outside the layer of family. We are more interested with dealing the social capital and sociological factors which could improve the human behavior. Some of the questions that this paper will attempt to address are: What is the motivation for the immigrant to come to the United States? Would it be voluntary or enforced? What is the role of social capital in helping to create the human capital?

Assumption1: Although immigrants and refugees being discouraged and not supported by the law, organization and community. Their social ties are always supportive and strong especially within the family and the supportive movement.

Most of the literature show that most of immigrants in the United States learn how to migrate to the United States. One of the approaches is the interpersonal ties that link between non-immigrant and migrant through relations (family and friends) and through their adoptive community.

Menjivar (2000) studies the social networks by examining the way Salvadorans deal with their new societies in San Francisco. She also brings up many of these immigrants’ stories by interviewing 50 persons (either individually or from their community) and conducting a survey of 150 Salvadorans (pp. 15-16). Her findings bring the historical background of Salvadoran refugees in San Francisco, who were immigrants forced to leave because of a civilian war in their country.

During their journey, they also have traumatic experiences in California. One of the studies notice that most of Salvadoran children have post traumatic stress disorder which make it difficult for them to learn and to adopt the new American culture (Menjivar, 2000, p.269). Also, the newcomers to San Francisco were not welcomed and not being treated well by the law. The immigration law did not provide the best support, community organizations were lacking resources, and the labor market was slow/not active.

She also discusses how immigrants from Salvador use the supportive churches in what she calls a “solidarity group” – “those who are in the United States and also those who stay in Mexico” (Menjivar, 2000, p.73). She explains that most of these solidarity groups offered a variety of services such as shelter, food, clothing, counseling, employment and education (Menjivar, 2000, p.74).

In addition, Menjivar finds that most of the immigrants used their savings to cover the cost of the migration. Once the persons paid the coyote, half of their money should cover the cost of the trip before their arrival. Then the persons’ family who lives in the United States pay the rest of the money in order to guarantee their safe arrival (Menjivar, 2000, p.62). Overall, the social network bases share information that immigrants can explain to each other the situations of migration and of the economic benefits that occur if they decide to emigrate.

Menjivar’s analysis on network theory also has enriched other research areas especially in the area of British social anthropology (1950). They applied the method to correct the boundaries of structural-functionalist studies and explored how these networks among people affected their behavior (Menjivar, 2000, p.26). For example, the history of the sanctuary movement shows how these institutions act against the state law. This movement mostly helps Salvador immigrants by providing the appropriate support to fill their needs. Although, the literature does not highlight how these institutions assist un-profiling immigrants or what is the limitation for those who are being supported through their trip to the United States (Menjivar, 2000, p.7).

However, other migration studies started to analyze the relation between immigration and social capital. The researchers mostly provide the neoclassical economic theory as well as the Coleman paper that present the concept of “new institutional economic” within this theory (Coleman, 1988, p. S97). The implication of this theory helps in understanding the effects of social organization on the operating system and it emphasize the importance of the historical, socioeconomic, and micro-level sociological conditions. He illustrated that there are two particular forms of the social capital that can be facilitated by social structures and social kin.

Assumption 2: The aspect of the ties (reciprocity, expectation, seeking help and creating social capital as well as obligations and expectation, trustworthiness and norms) play a dynamic role in of the immigrants’ social networks and the quality of human well-being.

According to Coleman (1899), the closure between the immigrants and family can: develop the set of the immigrant’s obligations, sustain the norms to be connected, and produce social structure trustworthiness (p. S107).

Most of the immigrants who decide to migrate to the United States, obtain the related information subjects (visa, employment, etc.) from their relatives or friends. This process called “information channel” facilitates the maintenance of social kin. Also, he explains that social organizations such as voluntary members in the immigrant community can use different purposes in order to support these migrants even it is not their first objective.

Another powerful form of social capital is the effective norms that cause a reduction in the ability for innovation that may constrain deviant behavior or it may be useful for them as well (Coleman, p. S105). Similarly, Granovetter (1973) stated that strong ties can reduce the capacity for innovation and eliminate information (p. 1366). Both, weak ties and negative normative, or some networks strengthen social capital for their members/actors.

However, Coleman explains that the reciprocity depends on two components: the social environment of trustworthiness will be rewarded (repaid) and “the actual extent of obligations held. Social structures differ in both these dimensions, and actors within the same structure differ in the second (Coleman, 1988, p. S102).” These components’ advantages can include the networking of persons who rely on each other to complete certain obligations.

In contrast, Menjivar focuses on the dynamic of social networks which is mentioned in the second assumption. Her analysis considers different measurements (class, gender and generation position) within the Salvadoran migrants that play a key role in shaping the mobility of supporting networks. For example, female immigrants search of supporting community organizations to achieve their personal growth and for their families and children. This example illustrates how they can share with other actors that assist them to create the informal networks of support (Menjivar, 2000, p.192).

From Coleman perspective, families and outside the families with high human capital may nevertheless be low in social capital because within the family there is little period for social interaction either with the family or among families and other social institutions. He stated that family background is divided into three elements: “financial capital, human capital, and social capital (Coleman, 1988, p.S109).” The measurements for these elements (in order) are: family income, parents’ education and the relations between children and parents (and other family members).

He explains that human capital encourages children to access the individual’s human capital and rely on both the parents’ attention and their presence. “If the human capital possessed by parents is not complemented by social capital embodied in family relations, it is irrelevant to the child’s educational growth that the parent has a great deal, or a small amount, of human capital (Coleman, 1988, p. S110).” Moreover, social capital can be found in the relationships outside the home, between parents and in the parents’ relations with the organizations of the community.

Therefore, social capital as a public good has a good implication in creating the human capital, physical capital (private goods) and human capital. It permits the person who has the capital to benefit from it. Social capital requires investments of time on the part of people who will not collect the complete benefits of their investment. The withdrawal of major investors in social capital who exit to pursue other interests can have serious costs for the entire group. An action may have small costs for the individual, but much greater costs for the group as a whole (Coleman, 1899, p. S116-118). Coleman states that we should try to find ways to increase social capital, probably through the creation of some formal institutions.

This article illustrates two assumptions that explore the relationship between Salvador immigrants’ social networks in their community (Salvador or the United States). They consider the social capital components because it helps individuals and groups to empower the social kin and share resources among themselves.

The implications of social capital in the family and community help in creating the human capital. Also, it plays a key role in affecting the humans’ behavior and in amending the quality of people’s life. Indeed, the concept of social capital captures many researchers’ attention because it is an important tool to understand immigration and immigrant context.


Coleman, J. (1988). “Social Capital in the Creation of Human Capital”. The American Journal of Sociology, Vol.94, S95-S120. University of Chicago.

Granovetter, M.S. (1973). “The Strength of Weak Ties.” The American Journal of Sociology, 78, 1360-1380. John Hopkins

Menjivar, C. (2000). “Fragmented Ties: Salvadoran Immigrant Networks in America”. University of California Press, Ltd.: California and London.


About BentRamallah

Writing is part of my resistance, Palestinian-Jordanian, working in humanitarian aid, refugee, social policy and protection. I love to cook, dance, hike, teach and practice yoga, and rescue animals.
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