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Abstract

This article juxtaposes theoretical notions concerning the relationship between migrant remittances and socio-economic inequality with an anthropological case study of remittances in Cape Verde. Contemporary theorizing involves, firstly, the idea that remittances do not benefit the poorest; secondly, the conclusion that the impact of remittances changes over time; thirdly, the notion that family structure influences the distribution of remittances; and fourthly the proposition that remittances have a stronger impact on social stratification when linked to the return of a migrant. The primary aim of the article is to use these theoretical notions as entry-points for analysing how remittances interplay with patterns of inequality in Cape Verde. A second aim is to examine the explanatory power of the theories through applying them to this specific case.

The article demonstrates that remittances in some cases benefit the poorest in Cape Verde and that this has to do with the long history of migration, which means that nearly everyone, irrespective of class, has a close relative abroad. It also shows that Cape Verdeans generally receive quite small amounts of money, which implies that they are seldom able to improve their economic situation in a more substantial way.

In conclusion, the article contends that in order to fully appreciate the complex relationship between remittances and socio-economic inequality it is necessary to take into account the importance of other sources of income. Moreover, it argues that the contemporary restrictive immigration regimes in receiving countries have a fundamental impact on the socio-economic distribution of remittances. In studies of the relationship between remittances and inequality, this is an aspect that has been left out. Instead, theorizing tends to focus on factors that are internal to the countries of origin, and on the migrants' links to these countries.