Mixing methods gives better insights

Mixing qualitative and quantitaive methods is increasingly a norm in large research projects. For me, one publication in particular stands out in terms of illustrating that this actually makes a difference. Together with my colleagues Marta Bivand Erdal and Cindy Horst I recently published an article in Internatinal Migration Review with the title How does Conflict in Migrants’ Country of Origin Affect Remittance-Sending? Financial Priorities and Transnational Obligations Among Somalis and Pakistanis in Norway.

Integrating qualitative and quantitative data was essential to our conclusions. Our own data collection was exclusively qualitative, but we provided input to survey questions on remittances, used the early descriptive results of the survey as inspiration in the qualitative data collection, and analysed the survey data in the light of findings from the qualitative interviews.

Multivariate analysis of survey data showed something surprising: among Somalis, remittance-sending was more dependent on whether or not migrants were employed, than on the money they had at their disposal. As an isolated result, that was puzzling. The qualitative data, however, suggested that employment status affects remittances via social obligations to remit. In other word, being a student or unemployed reduces the pressure to remit for the individuals involved, regardless of the true financial situationof the household. This was more important, we found, than the direct financial mechanism of having access to greater resources.

Among Pakistanis, the situation was very different: employment status had no clear effect on remittance-sending. However, the state of household finances did have a powerful impact. In other words, the affordability of remitting seemsed to play a much more  important role for Pakistanis than for Somalis. This resonnated with our ethnographic data, which showed that Pakistanis emphasized culture and tradition as motivations for remitting. For Somalis, by contrast, the high frequency of remitting was driven by a constant flow of urgent requests, linked to the insecurity of living in a country at war.

It was the analysis of survey data documented the much higher frequency of remitting among Somalisthan among Pakistanis — apparent in basic descriptive statistics. With multivariate analysis, we could deminstrate the contrasting effects of employment and household finances between the two groups. These are patterns we would not have discovered with semi-structured interviews alone. At the same time, we would not have been able to understand and explain these patterns that emerged from the statistical analysis without the qualitative data.

Our research is part of a relatively small body of literature that looks at remittances from the sender’s perspective. For me, a paper called ‘Remittances as unforeseen burdens’ by Stephanie Riak Akuei was an early source of inspiration in this area. Since then, Anna Lindley and Kavita Datta are among the others who have contributet to understanding migrants’ perspectives n the money they send to their countries of origin.