, Volume 103, Issue 1, pp 57-76
Date: 27 Aug 2010

Economic Migration and Happiness: Comparing Immigrants’ and Natives’ Happiness Gains From Income

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Abstract

Research on happiness casts doubt on the notion that increases in income generally bring greater happiness. This finding can be taken to imply that economic migration might fail to result in increased happiness for the migrants: migration as a means of increasing one’s income might be no more effective in raising happiness than other means of increasing one’s income. This implication is counterintuitive: it suggests that migrants are mistaken in believing that economic migration is a path to improving one’s well-being, at least to the extent that well-being means (or includes) happiness. This paper considers a scenario in which it is less likely that migrants are simply mistaken in this regard. The finding that increased incomes do not lead to greater happiness is an average (non)effect—and migrants might be exceptional in this regard, gaining happiness from increased incomes to a greater extent than most people. The analysis here, using data from the World Values Survey, finds that the association between income and happiness is indeed stronger for immigrants in the USA than for natives—but even for immigrants that association is still relatively weak. The discussion then considers this finding in light of the fact that immigrants also report lower levels of happiness than natives after controlling for other variables.