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Migration and Mental Health: Evidence from a Natural Experiment

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Abstract

People migrate to improve their well-being, whether through an expansion of economic and social opportunities or a reduction in persecution. Yet a large literature suggests that migration can be a very stressful process, with potentially negative impacts on mental health reducing the net benefits of migration. However, to truly understand the effect of migration on mental health one must compare the mental health of migrants to what their mental health would have been had they stayed in their home country. The existing literature is not able to do this and typically settles for comparing the mental health of migrants to that of natives in the destination country,which takes no account of any pre-existing differences between these groups. This paper overcomes the selection problems affecting previous studies of the effect of migration on mental health by examining a migrant lottery program. New Zealand allows a quota of Tongans to immigrate each year with a lottery used to choose amongst the excess number of applicants. A unique survey conducted by the authors in these two countries allows experimental estimates of the mental health effects of migration to be obtained by comparing the mental health of migrants who were successful applicants in the lottery to the mental health of those who applied to migrate under the quota, but whose names were not drawn in the lottery. Migration is found to lead to improvements in mental health, particularly for women and those with poor mental health in their home country.

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File URL: ftp://mngt.waikato.ac.nz/RePEc/wai/econwp/0604.pdf
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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by University of Waikato, Department of Economics in its series Working Papers in Economics with number 06/04.

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Length: 37 pages
Date of creation: 31 Mar 2006
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:wai:econwp:06/04

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Keywords: migration; mental health; natural experiment;

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  1. Das, Jishnu & Do, Quy-Toan & Friedman, Jed & McKenzie, David & Scott, Kinnon, 2007. "Mental health and poverty in developing countries: Revisiting the relationship," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 65(3), pages 467-480, August.
  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. Joshua D. Angrist, 2004. "Treatment effect heterogeneity in theory and practice," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 114(494), pages C52-C83, 03.
  4. David McKenzie & John Gibson & Steven Stillman, 2006. "How Important is Selection? Experimental vs Non-experimental Measures of Income Gains from Migration," Working Papers in Economics 06/03, University of Waikato, Department of Economics.
  5. James Heckman & Neil Hohmann & Jeffrey Smith, 1998. "Substitution and Dropout Bias in Social Experiments: A Study of an Influential Social Experiment," UWO Department of Economics Working Papers 9819, University of Western Ontario, Department of Economics.
  6. Victor Chernozhukov & Christian Hansen, 2005. "An IV Model of Quantile Treatment Effects," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 73(1), pages 245-261, 01.
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