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

Steven Stillman (), John Gibson (), David McKenzie () and Halahingano Rohorua ()
Additional contact information
Halahingano Rohorua: University of Waikato

No 6871, IZA Discussion Papers from Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA)

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.

Keywords: subjective well-being; natural experiment; lottery; immigration; Tonga; Pacific Islands (search for similar items in EconPapers)
JEL-codes: I31 J61 (search for similar items in EconPapers)
New Economics Papers: this item is included in nep-hap, nep-ltv and nep-mig
Date: 2012-09
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Published in: World Development, 2013, [Online First]

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Related works:
Journal Article: Miserable Migrants? Natural Experiment Evidence on International Migration and Objective and Subjective Well-Being (2015) Downloads
Working Paper: Miserable Migrants? Natural Experiment Evidence on International Migration and Objective and Subjective Well-Being (2012) Downloads
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