Why are Locals Happier than Internal Migrants? The Role of Daily Life

Abstract

Several survey studies have found that internal migrants report lower levels of happiness than locals, even after accounting for socio-economic factors. Traditional global self-ratings reveal that the migrantlocal happiness-gap is also present in the data we present. The reasons for the migrantlocal happiness-gap are as yet unclear. This paper aims to open this ‘black box’ by exploring the role of daily activities among a population that has generally been overlooked despite their high migration frequency: young adults. An innovative smartphone application is used that combines two techniques for multiple moment assessment: the experience sampling method and the day reconstruction method. Based on the application data, we examine whether internal migrants spend their time differently than locals and in which situations they feel noticeably less happy than locals. The data reveal that internal migrants distribute less time to happiness-producing activities such as active leisure, social drinking/parties, and activities outside home/work/transit. Internal migrants feel less happy than locals when spending time with friends and while eating. Possible explanations focusing on the role of social capital are discussed. Further analyses reveal that daily life experiences greatly enhance the explanation of the migrant–local happiness-gap. This paper demonstrates the potential value of real-time data and phone applications in solving happiness puzzles.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    This is also recognised as semi-internal migration, as former West Germany (BRD) and former East Germany (DDR) were reunited into one Germany in 1990, but faced significant social, economic, and cultural differences.

  2. 2.

    Some degree of memory bias is likely to be present when applying DRM, for instance, due to the “peak-end-rule” (Redelmeier et al. 2003). The bias remains acceptable, however, because people are shown to have adequate access to relevant information for indicating their feelings on the previous day (Kahneman et al. 2004).

  3. 3.

    This advantage is not yet applicable to our application as we lacked the resources to publicly introduce and promote the application.

  4. 4.

    Additionally, 11 young adults not living in the Dusseldorf area and 21 adults over the age of 30 were recruited but not considered for analysis as they introduced potential endogenous biases (e.g., living in a happier or unhappier region or migrated decades ago).

  5. 5.

    Analyses distinguishing the 109 locals in 55 non-movers and 54 short-distance movers (<100 km) reveal no significant differences on all six subjective-well being measures; analyses are available on request.

  6. 6.

    An education variable, asking about the highest level of education completed is excluded because it was highly correlated with age (r = 0.82). The high correlation is plausible given our sample of young adults.

  7. 7.

    Robustness checks are performed by replacing the 1-item life satisfaction measure with the SWLS and replacing the overall day reconstruction score with the overall experience sampling score. The outcomes are in line with the reported results; results are available on request.

  8. 8.

    According to Cohen (1992), effect sizes should be interpreted as follows: ηρ² = 0.01 as small, ηρ² = 0.06 as medium, and ηρ² = 0.14 as large.

  9. 9.

    Further robustness analyses suggest that the happiness-gap between migrants and locals was largely unaffected by (1) excluding a minimum boundary for signal response rate, (2) including people over 30 years old, or (3) including those not living in the Düsseldorf region; results are available on request.

  10. 10.

    A more detailed analysis of ‘friends’ did not appear to be useful due to the limited sample size per activity.

  11. 11.

    This type of ‘Heckman’ model applies a probit model in the first stage to reflect on the binary nature of the migration decision.

  12. 12.

    Similar results are found when using other dependent variables; results are available on request.

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Acknowledgments

The authors thank Stephan Erdtmann for technological help with constructing the application and Martijn Burger and Thomas de Vroome for comments on earlier versions.

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Correspondence to Martijn Hendriks.

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Hendriks, M., Ludwigs, K. & Veenhoven, R. Why are Locals Happier than Internal Migrants? The Role of Daily Life. Soc Indic Res 125, 481–508 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11205-014-0856-7

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Keywords

  • Internal migration
  • Residential mobility
  • Happiness
  • Subjective well-being
  • Experience sampling method
  • Day reconstruction method