This site uses cookies

Some of these cookies are essential, while others help us to improve your experience by providing insights into how the site is being used.

For more detailed information please check our Cookie notice

Necessary cookies

Necessary cookies enable core functionality. This website cannot function properly without these cookies.

Cookies that measure website use

If you provide permission, we will use Google Analytics to measure how you use the website so we can improve it based on our understanding of user needs. Google Analytics sets cookies that store anonymised information about how you got to the site, the pages you visit, how long you spend on each page and what you click on while you’re visiting the site.

Is economic migration a path to happiness?

Author: David Bartram
Institution: University of Leicester
Type of case study: Research

About the research

Happiness research seems to suggest that increasing one’s income does not bring greater happiness. So, what are the chances of economic migrants becoming happier by gaining a higher income moving to a wealthier country?

This research determined that the association between income and happiness is stronger for immigrants than for natives in the USA, perhaps implying an increase in income could bring more happiness for immigrants than for others. As there are no panel data to allow before-and-after comparisons on migrants themselves, this project compares US immigrants with natives to consider inferences about possible changes in happiness for immigrants.

The findings indicate that immigrants are less happy than natives – in part because they are less satisfied with their financial situation (despite having increased their incomes by moving to the US). More specifically, for economic migrants – those who are motivated mainly by the prospect of higher incomes – moving from poorer to wealthier countries might not provide the satisfaction they seek via earning higher incomes in the destination country. If they are motivated by hope of economic gain, any change in happiness might be affected more by their relatively low position in the destination than by the ‘absolute’ increase in their income.

In short, this study suggests that economic migration might not improve migrants’ happiness – a possibility that people contemplating an international move might want to consider carefully.


The research sample size is 1542, with an age range from 18 to 94. The analysis used Ordered Logistic Regression and Ordinary Least Squares (OLS) Regression. These methods enable a comparison of migrants and natives via adjustment on other variables associated with happiness.

The key dependent variable of interest is life satisfaction and this is examined in relation to the independent variables of income, country of birth, religiosity, partner, age, gender health, employment status, number of children and language.


Bartram, D. (2011) ‘Economic migration and happiness: Comparing immigrants’ and natives’ happiness gains from income’, Social Indicators Research, 103(1), pp. 57-76. doi: 10.1007/s11205-010-9696-2.