A major feature of the current ‘mass migration’ process is its strong linkages to countries of origin. Migrants belong to spatially extended families and play a crucial role in shaping economic development in home regions. This paper reviews the wide-ranging socio-economic literature on the nexus between labor migration, both domestic and international, and economic development at origin, with a special focus on out-migration from poor rural regions of developing countries. We disentangle direct effects on migrant-sending households from spillover effects on the rest of the economy, highlighting some key knowledge gaps and policy concerns related to the complex and intimate relation between rural labour mobility and economic behaviour of people left behind. Copyright © 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.