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Miserable Migrants? Natural Experiment Evidence on International Migration and Objective and Subjective Well-Being

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Author Info

  • Steven Stillman

    ()
    (Department of Economics, University of Otago)

  • John Gibson

    ()
    (Department of Economics, University of Waikato)

  • David McKenzie

    ()
    (Development Research Group, World Bank)

  • Halahingano Rohorua

    ()
    (Department of Economics, University of Waikato)

Abstract

Over 200 million people worldwide live outside their country of birth and typically experience large gains in material well-being by moving to where incomes are higher. But effects of migration on subjective well-being are less clear, with some studies suggesting that migrants are miserable in their new locations. Observational studies are potentially biased by the self-selection of migrants so a natural experiment is used to compare successful and unsuccessful applicants to a migration lottery in order to experimentally estimate the impact of migration on objective and subjective well-being. The results show that international migration brings large improvements in objective well-being, in terms of incomes and expenditures. Impacts on subjective well-being are complex, with mental health improving but happiness declining, self-rated welfare rising if viewed retrospectively but static if viewed experimentally, self-rated social respect rising retrospectively but falling experimentally and subjective income adequacy rising. We further show that these changes would not be predicted from cross-sectional regressions on the correlates of subjective well-being in either Tonga or New Zealand. More broadly, our results highlight the difficulties of measuring changes in subjective well-being when reference frames change, as likely occurs with migration.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by Centre for Research and Analysis of Migration (CReAM), Department of Economics, University College London in its series CReAM Discussion Paper Series with number 1228.

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Date of creation: Sep 2012
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Handle: RePEc:crm:wpaper:1228

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Keywords: Immigration; Lottery; Natural experiment; Subjective well-being; Tonga; Pacific Islands.;

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References

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  1. Di Tella, Rafael & Haisken-De New, John & MacCulloch, Robert, 2010. "Happiness adaptation to income and to status in an individual panel," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 76(3), pages 834-852, December.
  2. Joshua D. Angrist, 2003. "Treatment Effect Heterogeneity in Theory and Practice," NBER Working Papers 9708, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. AKAY Alpaslan & BARGAIN Olivier & ZIMMERMANN Klaus F., 2011. "Relative Concerns of Rural-to-Urban Migrants in China," CEPS/INSTEAD Working Paper Series 2011-12, CEPS/INSTEAD.
  4. David McKenzie & Steven Stillman & John Gibson, 2010. "How Important is Selection? Experimental VS. Non‐Experimental Measures of the Income Gains from Migration," Journal of the European Economic Association, European Economic Association, vol. 8(4), pages 913-945, 06.
  5. Angus Deaton, 2008. "Income, Health, and Well-Being around the World: Evidence from the Gallup World Poll," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 22(2), pages 53-72, Spring.
  6. McKenzie, David & Gibson, John & Stillman, Steven, 2007. "A land of milk and honey with streets paved with gold : do emigrants have over-optimistic expectations about incomes abroad ?," Policy Research Working Paper Series 4141, The World Bank.
  7. Angus S. Deaton, 2009. "Instruments of development: Randomization in the tropics, and the search for the elusive keys to economic development," NBER Working Papers 14690, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  8. John Gibson & David McKenzie & Halahingano Rohorua, 2008. "How Pro-Poor is the Selection of Seasonal Migrant Workers from Tonga Under New Zealand's Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) Program?," CReAM Discussion Paper Series 0807, Centre for Research and Analysis of Migration (CReAM), Department of Economics, University College London.
  9. Ravallion, Martin & Lokshin, Michael, 2002. "Self-rated economic welfare in Russia," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 46(8), pages 1453-1473, September.
  10. David Bartram, 2011. "Economic Migration and Happiness: Comparing Immigrants’ and Natives’ Happiness Gains From Income," Social Indicators Research, Springer, vol. 103(1), pages 57-76, August.
  11. Ozden, Caglar & Parsons, Christopher R. & Schiff, Maurice & Walmsley, Terrie L., 2011. "Where on earth is everybody ? the evolution of global bilateral migration 1960-2000," Policy Research Working Paper Series 5709, The World Bank.
  12. Borraz, Fernando & Pozo, Susan & Rossi, Máximo, 2008. "And What About the Family Back Home? International Migration and Happiness," Proceedings of the German Development Economics Conference, Zurich 2008 2, Verein für Socialpolitik, Research Committee Development Economics.
  13. Steven Stillman & David McKenzie & John Gibson, 2006. "Migration and mental health: Evidence from a natural experiment," Natural Field Experiments 00334, The Field Experiments Website.
  14. John Knight & Ramani Gunatilaka, 2010. "The Rural-Urban Divide in China: Income but Not Happiness?," Journal of Development Studies, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 46(3), pages 506-534.
  15. John Gibson & Steven Stillman & David McKenzie & Halahingano Rohorua, 2013. "Natural Experiment Evidence On The Effect Of Migration On Blood Pressure And Hypertension," Health Economics, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 22(6), pages 655-672, 06.
  16. Ingrid Nielsen & Russell Smyth & Qingguo Zhai, 2010. "Subjective Well-Being of China’s Off-Farm Migrants," Journal of Happiness Studies, Springer, vol. 11(3), pages 315-333, June.
  17. Ravallion, Martin & Lokshin, Michael, 2002. "Rich and powerful? Subjective power and welfare in Russia," Policy Research Working Paper Series 2854, The World Bank.
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Blog mentions

As found by EconAcademics.org, the blog aggregator for Economics research:
  1. Are international migrants happier after their move?
    by Economic Logician in Economic Logic on 2012-11-16 15:30:00
  2. Migration and happiness
    by Inaki Villanueva in Applied economist on 2013-11-01 17:33:00
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Cited by:
  1. Koczan, Zs, 2013. "Does integration increase life satisfaction," Cambridge Working Papers in Economics 1314, Faculty of Economics, University of Cambridge.

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