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Are Migrants Happier After They Move?


Do migrants generally gain happiness from moving to another country? In what specific migration flows do migrants gain happiness from moving abroad? Do the short-term and long-term effects of migration on migrants' happiness differ?

A team of Erasmus University and Gallup researchers tackles these questions in the 2018 World Happiness Report, using Gallup World Poll data from interviews with 36,000 first-generation migrants from more than 150 countries and territories.

The researchers found that the answer to the first question -- whether migrants gain happiness from moving to another country -- very broadly is yes. Based on their ratings of their lives, the approximately 250 million international migrants across the globe, on average, have become 9% happier following migration. Migrants who have moved from sub-Saharan Africa to Western Europe experienced the largest gains -- 29%.

But they also find the answer is no for some migrants. For example, migrants who left Western European countries to live in Central or Eastern Europe generally do not perceive better lives after they migrate. And those who move between the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand also do not typically see a happiness benefit.

These findings suggest that migration particularly brings happiness for migrants who move to more developed countries than the ones they leave. However, the data also show there are migration flows between similarly developed countries in which migrants do benefit from migration.

One of the more interesting findings is that nearly all of the happiness gains for migrants are within the first five years after their move. The happiness of international migrants generally does not improve further following those first five years.

"Migrants gradually evaluate their conditions in the host country through a more critical lens," explains Dr. Martijn Hendriks, the lead author of the study. "For example, migrants may experience decreasing satisfaction with their income because they compare their income more to that of the typically better off native-born population as their length of stay in the host country progresses."

The study additionally shows that migrants across the globe experience approximately 5% more positive emotions such as enjoyment and laughter and 7% less negative emotions such as worry and sadness because of migration. These findings suggest that international migration is, for many people, a powerful instrument to change their lives.

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