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

36 Pages Posted: 7 Oct 2012

See all articles by Steven Stillman

Steven Stillman

Free University of Bozen-Bolzano; IZA Institute of Labor Economics

John Gibson

University of Waikato; Motu Economic and Public Policy Research

David J. McKenzie

World Bank - Development Research Group (DECRG); IZA Institute of Labor Economics

Halahingano Rohorua

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.

Keywords: immigration, lottery, natural experiment, subjective well-being, Tonga, Pacific Islands

JEL Classification: I31, J61

Suggested Citation

Stillman, Steven and Gibson, John and McKenzie, David John and Rohorua, Halahingano, Miserable Migrants? Natural Experiment Evidence on International Migration and Objective and Subjective Well-Being. IZA Discussion Paper No. 6871, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2158281

Steven Stillman (Contact Author)

Free University of Bozen-Bolzano ( email )

Via Sernesi 1
39100 Bozen-Bolzano (BZ), Bozen 39100
Italy

IZA Institute of Labor Economics

P.O. Box 7240
Bonn, D-53072
Germany

John Gibson

University of Waikato ( email )

Te Raupapa
Private Bag 3105
Hamilton, 3240
New Zealand

Motu Economic and Public Policy Research

19 Milne Terrace
Island Bay
Wellington, 6002
New Zealand

David John McKenzie

World Bank - Development Research Group (DECRG) ( email )

1818 H. Street, N.W.
MSN3-311
Washington, DC 20433
United States

IZA Institute of Labor Economics ( email )

P.O. Box 7240
Bonn, D-53072
Germany

Halahingano Rohorua

University of Waikato ( email )

Te Raupapa
Private Bag 3105
Hamilton, 3240
New Zealand

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