Skip to main content
Article thumbnail
Location of Repository

Economic Migration and Happiness: Comparing Immigrants’ and Natives’ Happiness Gains From Income

By David Bartram


This is the author's final draft of the paper published as Social Indicators Research, 2011, 103 (1), pp. 57-76. The original publication is available at DOI: 10.1007/s11205-010-9696-2Research on happiness casts doubt on the notion that increases in income generally bring greater happiness. This finding can be taken to imply that economic migration might fail to result in increased happiness for the migrants: migration as a means of increasing one’s income might be no more effective in raising happiness than other means of increasing one’s income. This implication is counterintuitive: it suggests that migrants are mistaken in believing that economic migration is a path to improving one’s well-being, at least to the extent that well-being means (or includes) happiness. This paper considers a scenario in which it is less likely that migrants are simply mistaken in this regard. The finding that increased incomes do not lead to greater happiness is an average (non)effect—and migrants might be exceptional in this regard, gaining happiness from increased incomes to a greater extent than most people. The analysis here, using data from the World Values Survey, finds that the association between income and happiness is indeed stronger for immigrants in the USA than for natives—but even for immigrants that association is still relatively weak. The discussion then considers this finding in light of the fact that immigrants also report lower levels of happiness than natives after controlling for other variables

Topics: Happiness/life satisfaction, International migration, Income
Publisher: Springer Verlag
Year: 2010
DOI identifier: 10.1007/s11205-010-9696-2
OAI identifier:

Suggested articles


  1. (2008). Absolute Income, Relative Income, and Happiness. doi
  2. (1989). Adaptation of immigrants: Individual differences and determinants. doi
  3. Alois Stutzer (2002), Happiness and economics: how the economy and institutions affect human well-being. doi
  4. (2007). And what about the family back home? International migration and happiness." doi
  5. (1979). Birds of passage: migrant labor and industrial societies. Cambridge: doi
  6. (2007). Central and Eastern Europeans Migrants' Subjective Quality of Life: A Comparative Study.
  7. (1998). Crossnational Differences in Happiness: Economic and Cultural Factors Explored.
  8. (1999). Development as freedom. doi
  9. (2005). Diminishing Marginal Utility of Income? Caveat Emptor. doi
  10. (2010). Divided By Borders: Mexican Migrants and their Children. doi
  11. (1974). Does economic growth improve the human lot?, In doi
  12. (2008). Economic Growth and Subjective Well-Being: Reassessing the Easterlin Paradox. IZA Discussion Paper 3654, Institute for the Study of Labor. doi
  13. (2002). For better, for worse: Life satisfaction consequences of migration. doi
  14. (2006). Generalized Ordered Logit/ Partial Proportional Odds Models for Ordinal Dependent Variables.
  15. (2009). Happiness Around the World: The paradox of happy peasants and miserable millionaires. doi
  16. (1996). Happiness is a Stochastic Phenomenon. doi
  17. (1999). Hedonic Adaptation, In
  18. (1991). Immigrant Entrepreneurs: Koreans in Los Angeles, doi
  19. (2009). Immigrants' Life Satisfaction in Europe: Between Assimilation and Discrimination. European Sociological Review, forthcoming (doi:10.1093/esr/jcp013). doi
  20. (1996). Immigration satisfaction of Chinese Americans: An empirical examination. doi
  21. (2001). Income and Happiness: Towards a Unified Theory. doi
  22. (2008). Income, Health, and Well-Being around the World: Evidence from the Gallup World Poll. doi
  23. (2010). International migration, open borders debates, and happiness', doi
  24. (1991). Is Happiness Relative? doi
  25. (2008). Lags And Leads in Life Satisfaction: a Test of the Baseline Hypothesis. doi
  26. (1985). Latin journey: Cuban and Mexican immigrants in the United States. doi
  27. (2000). Life satisfaction of Indian immigrants doi
  28. (2006). Logistic regression models for ordinal response variables. doi
  29. (1999). Luxury fever: money and happiness in an era of excess. doi
  30. (1996). Migration and the quality of life: A review essay. doi
  31. (2010). Money and Happiness: Rank of Income, Not Income, Affects Life Satisfaction. doi
  32. (1985). Multiple Discrepancy Theory (MDT). doi
  33. (2008). Myths in the science of happiness and directions for future research, In
  34. (1995). Official Data File v.3. World Values Survey Association, Alec Gallup, Max Larsen, and Ronald Inglehart, principal investigators.
  35. (2002). Politics, Markets, and Life Satisfaction: The Political Economy of Human Happiness. doi
  36. (1995). Predictors of satisfaction with life among second generation migrants. doi
  37. (2001). Servants of globalization: women, migration, and domestic work. Stanford: doi
  38. (2006). Stumbling on happiness. doi
  39. (1999). Subjective well-being: three decades of progress. doi
  40. (2009). The age of migration: international population movements in the modern world. doi
  41. (1995). The cross-national pattern of happiness: Test of predictions implied in three theories of happiness. doi
  42. (2003). The High Price of Materialism. doi
  43. (1992). The joyless economy: the psychology of human satisfaction. doi
  44. (1993). The New Second Generation: Segmented Assimilation and Its Variants. doi
  45. (1993). The relationship between income and subjective well-being: Relative or absolute? doi
  46. (1993). The relativity of the welfare concept, doi
  47. (2003). The Role of Income Aspirations in Individual Happiness. doi
  48. (1998). The shifting basis of life satisfaction judgments across cultures: emotions versus norms. doi
  49. (2004). The suffering of the immigrant. doi
  50. Trends in international migration. Paris: Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
  51. (2003). Was Life Better in the “Good Old Days”? Intertemporal Judgments of Life Satisfaction.
  52. (1996). Welfare, Happiness and Ethics. doi
  53. (2009). Well-Being for Public Policy. doi
  54. (2002). Well-being in panels. Working paper,
  55. (2004). Well-being over time in Britain and the USA. doi
  56. (2006). Who Says Money Cannot Buy Happiness? Independent Review,
  57. (2002). Will Money Increase Subjective Well-Being? doi
  58. (2006). Would you be happier if you were richer? A focusing illusion. doi

To submit an update or takedown request for this paper, please submit an Update/Correction/Removal Request.