Why do people wish to migrate? It is well established that migration can increase and be sustained by way of one's involvement in migrant networks. Would-be migrants receive financing, accommodation, and other forms of assistance which substantially increases the chances of migration. But does access to migrant networks influence aspirations to migrate and not merely the ability to do so? In this thesis, I examine associations between having current or returned migrants in one's wider social network and one's expressed aspiration to migrate. I analyze survey data from the international research project Examining Europe from the Outside (EUMAGINE), collected in four areas of Senegal, and expand established theories of migrant networks to interpret the findings. I also incorporate insights from migration scholars who emphasize that a "culture of migration" may exist in regions in developing countries which have experienced high rates of emigration. When many people in an area participate in international migration, awareness of opportunities and lifestyles abroad increases, which can have a profound influence on identity formation, norms and behavior in sending communities. If migration becomes associated with social and material success in the public mind in these areas, migration can grow to become the norm rather than the exception.
Previously, scholars who have studied data on people's migration aspirations have understood these as proxies or determinants of future migration. Here an opposing argument is offered. Aspirations should be understood as social phenomena which is separate from migration ability. A person with an aspiration to migrate but no ability to do so is seen as living in a state of involuntary immobility.
I perform logistic regression analyses on two different measures of migration aspirations. While one survey question asks whether the respondent would move to Europe if provided the necessary papers, the other asks if the respondent intends to move to Europe within the next five years. These are used as measures of aspiration where respondents include different degrees of ability in their answering. EUMAGINE data analysis shows that migrant networks are important factors shaping migration aspirations. People who know returned migrants have a significantly higher chance of aspiring to migrate than people without such networks. Also, those who know both current and returned migrants are more likely to want to move to Europe. Migrant networks are less important in areas where a strong culture of migration has been established, and where many others have such networks. Knowing only current migrants does not seem to have the same impact on aspirations, indicating that it is people who are geographically close who are most influential when such aspirations are formed. When respondents also have to reflect on their migration ability, only those who know both current and returned migrants have significantly higher chances of wanting to move.
The findings contribute to our understanding of factors and forces which shape migration aspirations in situations of involuntary immobility. The applicability of migrant networks theory is expanded, offering insight into the ways migrant networks may influence migration aspirations. The thesis raises and answers important questions about migration decision-making.