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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. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Ravallion, Martin & Lokshin, Michael, 2002. "Self-rated economic welfare in Russia," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 46(8), pages 1453-1473, September.
  4. 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.
  5. 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).
  6. 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.
  7. Michael A. Clemens & Claudio E. Montenegro & Lant Pritchett, 2010. "The Place Premium: Wage Differences for Identical Workers across the US Border," Working Papers wp321, University of Chile, Department of Economics.
  8. Arthur A. Stone & Angus Deaton, 2013. "Two happiness puzzles," Working Papers 2013-3, Princeton University, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Center for Health and Wellbeing..
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. Joshua D. Angrist, 2004. "Treatment effect heterogeneity in theory and practice," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 114(494), pages C52-C83, 03.
  12. Akay, Alpaslan & Bargain, Olivier & Zimmermann, Klaus F., 2011. "Relative Concerns of Rural-to-Urban Migrants in China," IZA Discussion Papers 5480, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  13. Betsey Stevenson & Justin Wolfers, 2013. "Subjective Well-Being and Income: Is There Any Evidence of Satiation?," NBER Working Papers 18992, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  14. 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).
  15. Ravallion, Martin & Lokshin, Michael, 2002. "Rich and powerful? Subjective power and welfare in Russia," Policy Research Working Paper Series 2854, The World Bank.
  16. 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.
  17. Knight, John & Gunatilaka, Ramani, 2010. "Great Expectations? The Subjective Well-being of Rural-Urban Migrants in China," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 38(1), pages 113-124, January.
  18. Steven Stillman & David McKenzie & John Gibson, 2006. "Migration and Mental Health: Evidence from a Natural Experiment," Working Papers in Economics 06/04, University of Waikato, Department of Economics.
  19. 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.
  20. 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.
  21. Rafael Di Tella & John Haisken-De New & Robert Macculloch, 2010. "Happiness Adaptation to Income and to Status in an Individual Panel," Post-Print hal-00911821, HAL.
  22. David Bartram, 2011. "Economic Migration and Happiness: Comparing Immigrants’ and Natives’ Happiness Gains From Income," Social Indicators Research: An International and Interdisciplinary Journal for Quality-of-Life Measurement, Springer, vol. 103(1), pages 57-76, August.
  23. 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.
  24. Karin Amit & Howard Litwin, 2010. "The Subjective Well-Being of Immigrants Aged 50 and Older in Israel," Social Indicators Research: An International and Interdisciplinary Journal for Quality-of-Life Measurement, Springer, vol. 98(1), pages 89-104, August.
  25. 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.
  26. repec:pri:cheawb:deaton_income_health_and_wellbeing_around_the_world_evidence_%20from_gall is not listed on IDEAS
  27. 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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