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

  • 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)

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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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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  1. 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).
  2. Beegle, Kathleen & Himelein, Kristen & Ravallion, Martin, 2012. "Frame-of-reference bias in subjective welfare," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 81(2), pages 556-570.
  3. Alpaslan Akay & Olivier Bargain & Klaus F. Zimmermann, 2011. "Relative Concerns of Rural-to-Urban Migrants in China," Working Papers 201102, Geary Institute, University College Dublin.
  4. 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.
  5. 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).
  6. 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.
  7. Clemens, Michael A. & Montenegro, Claudio E. & Pritchett, Lant, 2009. "The Place Premium: Wage Differences for Identical Workers Across the US Border," Scholarly Articles 4412631, Harvard Kennedy School of Government.
  8. 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.
  9. Angrist, Joshua, 2003. "Treatment Effect Heterogeneity in Theory and Practice," IZA Discussion Papers 851, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  10. Stillman, Steven & McKenzie, David & Gibson, John, 2009. "Migration and mental health: Evidence from a natural experiment," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 28(3), pages 677-687, May.
  11. Angus Deaton, 2009. "Instruments of development: Randomization in the tropics, and the search for the elusive keys to economic development," Working Papers 1128, Princeton University, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Center for Health and Wellbeing..
  12. Angus Deaton & Arthur A. Stone, 2013. "Two Happiness Puzzles," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 103(3), pages 591-97, May.
  13. 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.
  14. 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.
  15. Stevenson, Betsey & Wolfers, Justin, 2013. "Subjective Well‐Being and Income: Is There Any Evidence of Satiation?," IZA Discussion Papers 7353, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  16. David McKenzie & John Gibson & Steven Stillman, 2007. "A land of milk and honey with streets paved with gold: Do emigrants have over-optimistic expectations about incomes abroad?," CReAM Discussion Paper Series 0709, Centre for Research and Analysis of Migration (CReAM), Department of Economics, University College London.
  17. 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.
  18. John Knight & Ramani Gunatilaka, 2007. "Great Expectations? The Subjective Well-Being of Rural-Urban Migrants in China," Economics Series Working Papers 322, University of Oxford, Department of Economics.
  19. Gibson, John & McKenzie, David & Rohorua, Halahingano, 2008. "How pro-poor is the selection of seasonal migrant workers from Tonga under New Zealand's recognized seasonal employer program ?," Policy Research Working Paper Series 4698, The World Bank.
  20. repec:pri:cheawb:deaton_income_health_and_wellbeing_around_the_world_evidence_%20from_gall is not listed on IDEAS
  21. 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.
  22. 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.
  23. Ravallion, Martin & Lokshin, Michael, 2002. "Rich and powerful? Subjective power and welfare in Russia," Policy Research Working Paper Series 2854, The World Bank.
  24. 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.
  25. Karin Amit & Howard Litwin, 2010. "The Subjective Well-Being of Immigrants Aged 50 and Older in Israel," Social Indicators Research, Springer, vol. 98(1), pages 89-104, August.
  26. Ilana Redstone Akresh, 2008. "Occupational Trajectories of Legal US Immigrants: Downgrading and Recovery," Population and Development Review, The Population Council, Inc., vol. 34(3), pages 435-456.
  27. Ravallion, Martin & Lokshin, Michael, 2002. "Self-rated economic welfare in Russia," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 46(8), pages 1453-1473, September.
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