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The psychic costs of migration: evidence from Irish return migrants

Abstract

Within the economics literature, the ‘psychic costs’ of migration have been incorporated into theoretical models since Sjaastad (J Polit Econ 70:80–93, 1962). However, the existence of such costs has rarely been investigated in empirical papers. In this paper, we look at the psychic costs of migration by using alcohol problems as an indicator. Rather than comparing immigrants and natives, we look at the native-born in a single country and compare those who have lived away for a period of their lives and those who have not. We use data from the first wave of the Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing which is a large, nationally representative sample of older Irish adults. We find that men who lived away are more likely to have suffered from alcohol problems than men who stayed. For women, we again see a higher incidence of alcohol problems for short-term migrants. However, long-term female migrants are less likely to have suffered from alcohol problems. For these women, it seems that migration provided psychic benefits, and this is consistent with findings from other research which showed how migration provided economic independence to this group. The results remain when we adjust for endogeneity and when we use propensity score matching methods.

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Notes

  1. Faini and Venturini (2010) refer to the related concept of ‘home bias’ and the ‘highly idiosyncratic preferences that have been formed while living in (the) area of origin’.

  2. As discussed in the literature review, papers have appeared in the medical literature which looks at the mental health status of immigrants relative to natives. However, the approach here offers a number of advantages relative to this earlier work and also places the work more firmly in the economics literature.

  3. For example, in a national survey of 648 primary care physicians carried out by the National Center of Addiction and Substance Abuse (2000), physicians were given case records of patients with a history typical of alcohol abuse. Physicians were asked to list five possible diagnoses. Whilst most physicians listed ulcer and irritable bowel syndrome, only 6.2 % correctly identified substance abuse as one of the five possible diagnoses.

  4. In TILDA, education is measured by the highest level of formal education achieved. Irish-specific levels are reclassified into three categories: primary/none (not complete or primary or equivalent), secondary (intermediate/junior/group certificate or equivalent and leaving certificate or equivalent) and third/higher (diploma/certificate, primary degree and postgraduate/higher degree).

  5. Barrett and Goggin (2010) use unemployment rates in the year individuals left full-time education as an instrument in an analysis of the wages of return migrants relative to stayers. They argue that this captures economic conditions and hence is likely to influence migration decisions. Our use of net outward migration rates is similarly motivated.

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Acknowledgements

We thank the two anonymous referees and the editor, Klaus F. Zimmermann, for their insightful comments and suggestions. We also thank the seminar participants at the University of Strathclyde, Swansea University and the National University of Ireland Maynooth and the delegates at the 2011 Irish Economic Association Annual Conference in Limerick and the 2nd TEMPO Conference on International Migration in Vienna. Finally, we also thank Brendan Walsh for the help in sourcing historic data on Irish migration flows. All errors are our own.

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Correspondence to Alan Barrett.

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Responsible editor: Klaus F. Zimmermann

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Barrett, A., Mosca, I. The psychic costs of migration: evidence from Irish return migrants. J Popul Econ 26, 483–506 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00148-012-0438-4

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Keywords

  • Return migrants
  • Older adults
  • Ireland
  • Alcoholism