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

Author

Listed:
  • 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.

Suggested Citation

  • Steven Stillman & John Gibson & David McKenzie & Halahingano Rohorua, 2012. "Miserable Migrants? Natural Experiment Evidence on International Migration and Objective and Subjective Well-Being," CReAM Discussion Paper Series 1228, Centre for Research and Analysis of Migration (CReAM), Department of Economics, University College London.
  • Handle: RePEc:crm:wpaper:1228
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    References listed on IDEAS

    as
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    Cited by:

    1. Falco, Chiara & Rotondi, Valentina, 2016. "The Less Extreme, the More You Leave: Radical Islam and Willingness to Migrate," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 88(C), pages 122-133.
    2. Artjoms Ivlevs, 2014. "Happiness and the emigration decision," IZA World of Labor, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA), pages 1-96, October.
    3. Ivlevs, Artjoms, 2015. "Happy Moves? Assessing the Link Between Life Satisfaction and Emigration Intentions," IZA Discussion Papers 9017, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    4. Michael A. Clemens & Hannah Postel, 2017. "Temporary work visas as US-Haiti development cooperation: a preliminary impact evaluation," IZA Journal of Labor & Development, Springer;Forschungsinstitut zur Zukunft der Arbeit GmbH (IZA), vol. 6(1), pages 1-18, December.
    5. John F. Helliwell & Aneta Bonikowska & Hugh Shiplett, 2016. "Migration as a Test of the Happiness Set Point Hypothesis: Evidence from Immigration to Canada," NBER Working Papers 22601, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    6. Alpaslan Akay & Olivier Bargain & Klaus F. Zimmermann, 2017. "Home Sweet Home?: Macroeconomic Conditions in Home Countries and the Well-Being of Migrants," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 52(2), pages 351-373.
    7. Hirvonen, Kalle & Lilleør, Helene Bie, 2015. "Going Back Home: Internal Return Migration in Rural Tanzania," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 70(C), pages 186-202.
    8. Clemens, Michael & Pritchett, Lant, 2016. "The New Case for Migration Restrictions: An Assessment," Working Paper Series rwp16-054, Harvard University, John F. Kennedy School of Government.
    9. Gatina, Liliya, 2016. "Does money buy happiness? Financial and general well-being of immigrants in Australia," Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics (formerly The Journal of Socio-Economics), Elsevier, vol. 63(C), pages 91-105.
    10. Gibson, John & McKenzie, David & Rohorua, Halahingano & Stillman, Steven, 2015. "The Long-Term Impacts of International Migration: Evidence from a Lottery," IZA Discussion Papers 9492, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    11. Nikolova, Milena & Graham, Carol, 2015. "In transit: The well-being of migrants from transition and post-transition countries," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 112(C), pages 164-186.
    12. Clemens, Michael A. & Özden, Çağlar & Rapoport, Hillel, 2015. "Reprint of: Migration and Development Research is Moving Far Beyond Remittances," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 65(C), pages 1-5.
    13. repec:spr:soinre:v:138:y:2018:i:1:d:10.1007_s11205-017-1649-6 is not listed on IDEAS
    14. Nikolova, Milena & Roman, Monica & Zimmermann, Klaus F., 2017. "Left behind but doing good? Civic engagement in two post-socialist countries," Journal of Comparative Economics, Elsevier, vol. 45(3), pages 658-684.
    15. Cifuentes, Myriam Patricia & Doogan, Nathan J. & Fernandez, Soledad A. & Seiber, Eric E., 2016. "Factors shaping Americans’ objective well-being: A systems science approach with network analysis," Journal of Policy Modeling, Elsevier, vol. 38(6), pages 1018-1039.
    16. Senik, Claudia, 2014. "The French unhappiness puzzle: The cultural dimension of happiness," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 106(C), pages 379-401.
    17. David Bartram, 2015. "Inverting the Logic of Economic Migration: Happiness Among Migrants Moving from Wealthier to Poorer Countries in Europe," Journal of Happiness Studies, Springer, vol. 16(5), pages 1211-1230, October.
    18. Artjoms Ivlevs, 2015. "Happy Moves? Assessing the Link between Life Satisfaction and Emigration Intentions," Kyklos, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 68(3), pages 335-356, August.
    19. Zsóka Kóczán, 2016. "(Why) are immigrants unhappy?," IZA Journal of Migration and Development, Springer;Forschungsinstitut zur Zukunft der Arbeit GmbH (IZA), vol. 5(1), pages 1-25, December.
    20. Chiara FALCO & Valentina ROTONDI, 2016. "The Less Extreme, the More You Leave: Radical Islam and Willingness to Migrate," Departmental Working Papers 2016-04, Department of Economics, Management and Quantitative Methods at Università degli Studi di Milano.
    21. Arthur Grimes & Dennis Wesselbaum, 2018. "Moving towards happiness," Working Papers 18_07, Motu Economic and Public Policy Research.
    22. Koczan, Zs, 2013. "Does integration increase life satisfaction," Cambridge Working Papers in Economics 1314, Faculty of Economics, University of Cambridge.
    23. Kountouris, Yiannis & Remoundou, Kyriaki, 2013. "Is there a cultural component in tax morale? Evidence from immigrants in Europe," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 96(C), pages 104-119.

    More about this item

    Keywords

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

    JEL classification:

    • I31 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Welfare, Well-Being, and Poverty - - - General Welfare, Well-Being
    • J61 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Mobility, Unemployment, Vacancies, and Immigrant Workers - - - Geographic Labor Mobility; Immigrant Workers

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