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Migration and mental health : evidence from a natural experiment

Author

Listed:
  • Stillman, Steven
  • McKenzie, David
  • Gibson, John

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 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 among 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.

Suggested Citation

  • Stillman, Steven & McKenzie, David & Gibson, John, 2007. "Migration and mental health : evidence from a natural experiment," Policy Research Working Paper Series 4138, The World Bank.
  • Handle: RePEc:wbk:wbrwps:4138
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    References listed on IDEAS

    as
    1. Joshua D. Angrist, 2004. "Treatment effect heterogeneity in theory and practice," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 114(494), pages 52-83, March.
    2. James Heckman & Neil Hohmann & Jeffrey Smith & Michael Khoo, 2000. "Substitution and Dropout Bias in Social Experiments: A Study of an Influential Social Experiment," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 115(2), pages 651-694.
    3. David McKenzie & John Gibson & Steven Stillman, 2010. "How Important Is Selection? Experimental vs. Non-Experimental Measures of the Income Gains from Migration," Journal of the European Economic Association, MIT Press, vol. 8(4), pages 913-945, June.
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    5. 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.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

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    More about this item

    Keywords

    Health Monitoring&Evaluation; Population Policies; Disease Control&Prevention; Mental Health; Gender and Health;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • F22 - International Economics - - International Factor Movements and International Business - - - International Migration
    • I12 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health - - - Health Behavior
    • J61 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Mobility, Unemployment, Vacancies, and Immigrant Workers - - - Geographic Labor Mobility; Immigrant Workers

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