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The emigration of immigrants, return vs onward migration: evidence from Sweden

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This study analyzes emigration propensities for natives and immigrants delineating among immigrant emigrants between return and onward migration. Results indicate that emigrants are positively selected in terms of upper education. Well-educated immigrants have a higher probability of leaving for third-country destinations than returning to countries of origin. Predicted age–income profiles for immigrants show that return migrants have higher adjusted mean income levels than non-emigrants up to the age of 40. Onward migrants have lower predicted income levels across the age distribution due to this group’s composition and relatively low employment levels in Sweden. Separate estimations by region of origin indicate that within each group, onward migrants are more positively selected then return migrants in terms of income.

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  1. Hammarstedt (2004) analyzes emigration of immigrants from Sweden, with a separate analysis for return and onward migrants. This study focuses on the influence of unemployment and welfare pick-up on emigration probabilities. DaVanzo (1976), (1983) studies return and onward migration between US counties. See also Constant and Zimmermann (2003) for a study on repeat migration.

  2. Traditional panel estimation techniques are not used, as a sample of non-emigrants is compared to the full population of emigrants for each available year, implying non-trivial weighting problems.

  3. An equal or higher probability for Asian, African, and East European emigrants to migrate to third-country destinations is found when younger age groups are included in estimation (16+). Note that emigration propensities vary by region of origin. Information from Statistics Sweden (SCB) for the year 2000 indicate that 0.2% of natives emigrate, 1.9% of the Nordic born, 1.2% of Europeans, 1.6% of Africans, 3.9% of North Americans, 1.3% of South Americans, and 1.0% of Asians.

  4. All models were reestimated, including individuals with no information registered on attained educational levels. In these estimations, a separate categorical variable was created for those with missing education. Reported results are robust to the inclusion of these individuals. Missing information on education was found to be associated with a higher probability of emigration.

  5. As a check of robustness, linear probability models of emigration are reestimated for immigrants, including a full set of dummy variables indicating year of immigration with no notable change in results. Results are available upon request.

  6. Linear probability models on emigration were run separately for each available year, 1991–2000. The only notable differences in results were the following: The probability of emigrating for immigrant Ph.D. degree holders was lower in comparison to primary-school-educated immigrants but still positive and significant for the earlier period (1991–1994). Duration of residence was found to have a stronger negative impact on emigration probabilities in the early 1990s. Finally, immigrants from other Nordic countries were found to have a higher probability of emigrating from Sweden, relative to West Europeans during 1991–1992. Results for natives were quantitatively similar for each respective year.

  7. Due to the nature of the data, estimations in the paper are unable to specifically control for unobserved ability. Reagan and Olsen (2000) find a positive effect on return migration for college graduates but no separate affect for ability, as measured by the Armed Forces Qualifying Test.

  8. Income regressions by region of origin are not shown but are available from author by request. Duration of residence is found to be positively associated with income for all regions, with the exception of West Europeans emigrants (both return and onward migrants) and Nordic onward emigrants.

  9. Results for women, shown in Figs. A16 and A17, indicate that income levels for native emigrants surpass that of native non-emigrants after the age of 30. For immigrant women, average adjusted incomes for employed onward migrants surpass that of return migrants across the age distribution and surpass that of non-emigrants after the age of 30. Return migrants have similar or slightly lower incomes than non-emigrant (fully employed) immigrant women.


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I am grateful to Mahmood Arai for helpful comments as well as to seminar participants at the Department of Economics, Stockholm University, the Institute for Labor Market Policy Evaluation (IFAU), and the Swedish Institute for Social Research (SOFI). The paper has greatly benefited from the comments of two anonymous referees. Finally, I wish to thank Finanspolitiska Forskningsinstitutet and the Jan Wallander Foundation and Tom Hedelius Foundation for research support.

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Correspondence to Lena Nekby.

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Responsible editor: Klaus F. Zimmermann



Table A1 Linear probability model of return migration and onward migration, by region of origin: Nordic Countries, Western and Eastern Europea
Table A2 Linear probability model of return migration and onward migration, by region of origin: North and South Americaa
Table A3 Linear probability model of return migration and onward migration, by region of origin: Africa and Asiaa
Table A4 Income regressions (log average lagged income)a
Fig. A1
figure 12

Predicted age–income profile, native women

Fig. A2
figure 13

Predicted age–income profile, immigrant women

Fig. A3
figure 14

Unadjusted age-specific mean income, native mena

Fig. A4
figure 15

Unadjusted age-specific mean income, immigrant mena

Fig. A5
figure 16

Unadjusted age-specific mean income, native womena

Fig. A6
figure 17

Unadjusted age-specific mean income, immigrant womena

Fig. A7
figure 18

Predicted age–income profiles by region of origin, Nordic women

Fig. A8
figure 19

Predicted age–income profiles by region of origin, west European women

Fig. A9
figure 20

Predicted age–income profiles by region of origin, east European women

Fig. A10
figure 21

Predicted age–income profiles by region of origin, North American women

Fig. A11
figure 22

Predicted age–income profiles by region of origin, South American women

Fig. A12
figure 23

Predicted age-income profiles by region of origin, African women

Fig. A13
figure 24

Predicted age-income profiles by region of origin, Asian women

Fig. A14
figure 25

Predicted age–income profiles for fully employed, native men

Fig. A15
figure 26

Predicted age–income profiles for fully employed, foreign-born men

Fig. A16
figure 27

Predicted age–income profiles for fully employed, native women

Fig. A17
figure 28

Predicted age–income profiles for fully employed, immigrant women

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Nekby, L. The emigration of immigrants, return vs onward migration: evidence from Sweden. J Popul Econ 19, 197–226 (2006).

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