Social Indicators Research

, Volume 114, Issue 2, pp 383–404 | Cite as

Are Migrants Going Up a Blind Alley? Economic Migration and Life Satisfaction around the World: Cross-National Evidence from Europe, North America and Australia

  • Analia OlgiatiEmail author
  • Rocio Calvo
  • Lisa Berkman


Are migrants satisfied with their decision to move to another country? Research shows that the income-wellbeing relationship is weak in wealthy countries, usually countries of destination. Are then economic migrants mistaken? Employing data from the Gallup World Poll, a representative sample of the world population, we investigate whether a general pattern of association exists between income and the cognitive component of subjective wellbeing, and whether this pattern differs by immigration status in 16 high-income countries. In only a handful of countries do we find a distinctive immigrant advantage in translating income into higher life evaluation or life satisfaction: Australia, Belgium, the Netherlands, Portugal and Sweden. For immigrants in most of these countries, income increases cognitive wellbeing even in the fifth income quintile. Depending on the measure used, immigrants in Canada, Denmark, Finland, Italy and the US only have positive income-wellbeing associations at or below the third quintile. We take this as evidence that, among recent arrivals, income is positively associated with wellbeing up to the point in which non-pecuniary factors associated with long-term residence become dominant. We also find a number of “frustrated achievers” among the foreign born in the US, France and Finland. These immigrants report a negative association, in absolute value, between income and life satisfaction or life evaluation.


Life Satisfaction/Happiness International migration Income Gallup World Poll 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Harvard Center for Population and Development StudiesHarvard UniversityCambridgeUSA
  2. 2.Boston College Graduate School of Social WorkChestnut HillUSA
  3. 3.Harvard School of Public HealthHarvard UniversityCambridgeUSA

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