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

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Author Info

  • Stillman, Steven

    ()
    (University of Otago)

  • Gibson, John

    ()
    (University of Waikato)

  • McKenzie, David

    ()
    (World Bank)

  • Rohorua, Halahingano

    ()
    (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 Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA) in its series IZA Discussion Papers with number 6871.

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Length: 36 pages
Date of creation: Sep 2012
Date of revision:
Publication status: forthcoming in: World Development
Handle: RePEc:iza:izadps:dp6871

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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. Russell Smyth & Ingrid Nielsen & Qingguo Zhai, 2009. "Subjective Well-Being Of China'S Off-Farm Migrants," Development Research Unit Working Paper Series 02-09, Monash University, Department of Economics.
  2. McKenzie, David & Gibson, John & Stillman, Steven, 2006. "How Important Is Selection? Experimental vs. Non-Experimental Measures of the Income Gains from Migration," IZA Discussion Papers 2087, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  3. McKenzie, David & Gibson, John & Stillman, Steven, 2013. "A land of milk and honey with streets paved with gold: Do emigrants have over-optimistic expectations about incomes abroad?," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 102(C), pages 116-127.
  4. Caglar Ozden & Christopher R. Parsons & Maurice Schiff & Terrie L. Walmsley, 2011. "Where on Earth is Everybody? The Evolution of Global Bilateral Migration 1960-2000," World Bank Economic Review, World Bank Group, vol. 25(1), pages 12-56, May.
  5. Joshua Angrist, 2004. "Treatment Effect Heterogeneity in Theory and Practice," Econometric Society 2004 North American Winter Meetings 186, Econometric Society.
  6. Steven Stillman & David McKenzie & John Gibson, 2006. "Migration and mental health: Evidence from a natural experiment," Natural Field Experiments 00334, The Field Experiments Website.
  7. Rafael Di Tella & John Haisken-De New & Robert MacCulloch, 2007. "Happiness Adaptation to Income and to Status in an Individual Panel," NBER Working Papers 13159, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  8. Gibson, John & Stillman, Steven & McKenzie, David & Rohorua, Halahingano, 2010. "Natural Experiment Evidence on the Effect of Migration on Blood Pressure and Hypertension," IZA Discussion Papers 5232, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  9. 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.
  10. Angus Deaton, 2009. "Instruments of development: Randomization in the tropics, and the search for the elusive keys to economic development," Working Papers 1122, Princeton University, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Research Program in Development Studies..
  11. 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.
  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. Ravallion, Martin & Lokshin, Michael, 2002. "Self-rated economic welfare in Russia," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 46(8), pages 1453-1473, September.
  14. Ravallion, Martin & Lokshin, Michael, 2002. "Rich and powerful? Subjective power and welfare in Russia," Policy Research Working Paper Series 2854, The World Bank.
  15. Yaohui Zhao, 1999. "Leaving the Countryside: Rural-to-Urban Migration Decisions in China," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 89(2), pages 281-286, May.
  16. repec:pri:cheawb:deaton_income_health_and_wellbeing_around_the_world_evidence_%20from_gallup_world_poll_jep_spring2008 is not listed on IDEAS
  17. 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.
  18. 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.
  19. 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.
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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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