Social Capital and Livelihoods in Johannesburg: Differential Advantages and Unexpected Outcomes among Foreign-Born Migrants, Internal Migrants, and Long-Term South African Residents


  • The authors would like to warmly thank the respondents who generously gave their time to share their urban experiences, and to the original fieldwork team for collecting the data on which this paper is based. They would like to thank Sangeetha Madhavan, Loren Landau, Michael White, Meredith Kleykamp, Philip Anglewicz, Reeve Vanneman, Rachel Yancey, Philippe de Lombaerde, Ellen Percy Kraly, and the anonymous reviewers for their useful conceptual and methodological criticisms that undoubtedly improved this piece. Additionally, they want to recognize the valuable feedback from the participants who took part in the 2012 Wits, Brown, Colorado, and African Population and Health Research Center Research Colloquium, the 2012 American Sociological Association's Sociology of Development Section International Conference, and the 2013 Population Association of American annual meeting. Finally, the authors would like to acknowledge the support of the University of the Witwatersrand's African Centre for Migration & Society – in particular Lorena Núñez – as this research could not have taken place without their data and infrastructure. The data from which this paper draws were collected as part of the Regional Network on AIDS, Livelihoods and Food Security (RENEWAL) study, funded by the IDRC. Approval for the study was obtained from the University of the Witwatersrand Medical Research Ethics Committee (protocol number M071125).


Foreign-born migrants – a group rarely compared with both internal migrants and long-term residents – are often positioned as the most disadvantaged South African urban population. We use data from a 2008 cross-sectional household survey conducted in Johannesburg to compare a contextually relevant measure of social capital and livelihood advantages between foreign-born migrants, internal migrants, and long-term South African residents. Our findings are counterintuitive and emphasize the need to explore the heterogeneity of urban migrant populations, and the mechanisms in which they better their lives, by showing that (1) foreign-born migrants have better urban livelihood outcomes, and (2) indicators of social capital are not necessarily associated with improved livelihood outcomes.