As is the case with the adoption of many other practices, social influence plays an important role in immigrants’ decision to apply for host-country citizenship. Existing work uses residential characteristics to proxy social network effects but does not directly analyze the hypothesized mechanisms – flow of information and signals about identity fit – nor does it specify the type of social network influence. We address this lacuna using data from in-depth interviews with immigrants about their decision whether or not to naturalize in the US. Our analysis of this data suggests that for migrants facing barriers naturalization diffuses through complex contagion. Rather than through the simple presence of naturalized co-ethnics, we show that social influence flows through strong ties to naturalized immigrants who share similar characteristics. When assessing information about the process and their chances of success, those who are on the fence look to others who have naturalized and who resemble them in attributes like education or migration trajectory. In addition, the promise of status equality that citizenship offers matters: comparing themselves to (social) peers that have citizenship can motivate respondents to naturalize as a way to claim equal status.
Alicia Poole and Thomas Soehl, “A Citizen Just Like You: The Role of Complex Contagion and Resemblance for Decisions to Naturalize“, International Migration Review, 2023.