Journal of Happiness Studies

, Volume 12, Issue 5, pp 819-840

First online:

Happiness and International Migration

  • Linnea A. PolgreenAffiliated withCollege of Pharmacy, University of Iowa Email author 
  • , Nicole B. SimpsonAffiliated withDepartment of Economics, Colgate University

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In this paper, we consider the extent to which the aggregate happiness of a country affects the flow of people across its borders. We merge data from the World Values Survey, which produces happiness indices for 84 countries between 1981 and 2004, with three different migration datasets: emigration rates from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, immigration rates from the U.S. Census, and net migration rates from the United Nations. We find that happiness has a U-shaped relationship with emigration rates: emigration rates fall in happiness for relatively unhappy countries, but rise for relatively happy countries. The U-shaped relationship also holds for migrant flows into the U.S. When analyzing net migration rates, we find that the reverse relationship exists. Net migration is associated with an increase in happiness for relatively unhappy countries, but after a threshold level of happiness, net migration is associated with a decrease in happiness. Our findings are robust to various empirical specifications and datasets.


International migration Happiness Human development Income