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Eliciting illegal migration rates through list randomization


  • McKenzie D.
  • Siegel M.



Most migration surveys do not ask about the legal status of migrants due to concerns about the sensitivity of this question. List randomization is a technique that has been used in a number of other social science applications to elicit sensitive information. We trial this technique by adding it to surveys conducted in Ethiopia, Mexico, Morocco and the Philippines. We show how, in principle, this can be used to both give an estimate of the overall rate of illegal migration in the population being surveyed, as well as to determine illegal migration rates for subgroups such as more or less educated households. Our results suggest that there is some indication in this method we find higher rates of illegal migrationin countries where illegal migration is thought to be more prevalent and households who say they have a migrant are more likely to report having an illegal migrant. Nevertheless, some of our other findings also suggest some possible inconsistencies or noise in the conclusions obtained using this method, so wesuggest directions for future attempts to implement this approach in migration surveys.

Suggested Citation

  • McKenzie D. & Siegel M., 2013. "Eliciting illegal migration rates through list randomization," MERIT Working Papers 023, United Nations University - Maastricht Economic and Social Research Institute on Innovation and Technology (MERIT).
  • Handle: RePEc:unm:unumer:2013023

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Karlan, Dean S. & Zinman, Jonathan, 2012. "List randomization for sensitive behavior: An application for measuring use of loan proceeds," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 98(1), pages 71-75.
    2. Bruhn, Miriam & Lara Ibarra, Gabriel & McKenzie, David, 2013. "Why is voluntary financial education so unpopular ? Experimental evidence from Mexico," Policy Research Working Paper Series 6439, The World Bank.
    3. Gordon H. Hanson, 2006. "Illegal Migration from Mexico to the United States," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 44(4), pages 869-924, December.
    4. Alexander L. Janus, 2010. "The Influence of Social Desirability Pressures on Expressed Immigration Attitudes," Social Science Quarterly, Southwestern Social Science Association, vol. 91(4), pages 928-946.
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    Cited by:

    1. Elisabetta de Cao & Clemens Lutz, 2015. "Measuring attitudes regarding female genital mutilation through a list experiment," CSAE Working Paper Series 2015-20, Centre for the Study of African Economies, University of Oxford.
    2. TENIKUE Michel & TEQUAME Miron, 2018. "Economic and Health Impacts of the 2011 Post-Electoral Crisis in Côte d?Ivoire: Evidence from Microdata," LISER Working Paper Series 2018-03, LISER.
    3. De Cao, Elisabetta & Lutz, Clemens, 2014. "Sensitive survey questions," Research Report 14017-EEF, University of Groningen, Research Institute SOM (Systems, Organisations and Management).

    More about this item


    Survey Methods; Sampling Methods; International Migration; Geographic Labor Mobility; Immigrant Workers; Illegal Behavior and the Enforcement of Law;

    JEL classification:

    • F22 - International Economics - - International Factor Movements and International Business - - - International Migration
    • C83 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Data Collection and Data Estimation Methodology; Computer Programs - - - Survey Methods; Sampling Methods
    • J61 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Mobility, Unemployment, Vacancies, and Immigrant Workers - - - Geographic Labor Mobility; Immigrant Workers
    • K42 - Law and Economics - - Legal Procedure, the Legal System, and Illegal Behavior - - - Illegal Behavior and the Enforcement of Law

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