Amelia F. Constant, Klaus F. Zimmerman (eds) (2013), International Handbook on the Economics of Migration

Edward Elgar

Academic publishing, like so much else in life, operates in cycles: edited collections (whether of original or reprinted material) are for a period popular with publishers, who launch (and often do not complete) series – and then they fall out of favour. We are currently in a period where they seem very attractive to many of the major publishers, including some – such as Edward Elgar – for whom they have seemed to dominate their catalogues for substantial periods. The International Handbook on the Economics of Migration is a product of one such boom-time.

Evaluating such volumes is rarely straightforward. Often it is difficult to determine the precise intended audience for relatively expensive books, many of which – because of time lags between the initial idea, followed by recruiting authors and getting recalcitrants to deliver, obtaining (in this case at least) expert referees’ reports, editing and then printing – seem obsolete by the time they reach the purchaser. Given the pace of publication through other media in many subject areas and students’ increasing preference for the shift from ‘reading for a degree’ to ‘googling for a degree,’ the rationale for such books is hard to identify. But they keep coming.

In many ways this book is no exception to the general tone of this (mild?) criticism. The editors’ introduction presents no raison d’être for the book and its contents: indeed, like so many such introductions, it does little more than summarise the contents of the remaining chapters and provides no over-arching structure. The second chapter – Migration and ethnicity: an introduction – does little better, after rather bewildering the reader by introducing a second concept – ethnicity – that is not in the book’s title. Migration, or rather those elements of migration with which the book is concerned, is not defined, but it is implicitly clear that the dominant focus of interest is international, and especially international economic, migration. Intra-national migration, let alone intra-city migration, is (albeit never explicitly) largely excluded from consideration, although much of that movement too is economic in its rationale. Indeed – as the editors admit – the book’s focus is really on the economic integration of immigrant ethnic minorities, though with some reference to identity, perceptions and attitudes.

The book’s chapters are structured into four main sections. The first contains five on The move – ranging widely from modelling individual migration decisions through the economics of circular migration, the international migration of health professionals, independent child labour migrants, and human smuggling. The second contains seven on Performance and the labour market, and the third a disparate eight on New lines of research – including one on Happiness and migration. The seven chapters in the final section – Policy issues – are similarly wide-ranging. In many ways this range is part of the book’s strength and appeal: chapters on, for example, migrants’ access to financial capital, their experience of risky occupations, their wages and obesity, their experience of natural disasters, and the economic effects of inter-ethnic marriages are all beyond what one might consider the core issues of migration studies and as such introduce a breadth of perspectives that many comparable volumes lack.

In terms of orientation and content the individual chapters vary considerably. Some are – as expected – reviews of the recent literature and the current state of knowledge. Others are little more than individual research papers, such as that on Ethnic hiring. The latter have specialist value, but do they have a place in an (expensive) handbook?

Whether this volume is of value to economists and their students of (international) migration and ethnicity is not possible for a non-economist to judge. For the student of migration and ethnicity from another disciplinary perspective it has considerable value in directing attention to issues and literature that might otherwise be overlooked if they were not brought together in a volume such as this. But whether that is justification for the effort in its creation is doubtful, especially given the price: if I had not been invited to review it I would certainly not have bought it, would probably not have suggested its purchase to my university library – indeed would probably have been unaware of it. There has to be a quicker and cheaper way to keep the scholarly community up-to-date.

Ron Johnston
University of Bristol