Research Programme

Non-labour market implications of family migration

Maarten van Ham, Allan FindlayVernon Gayle,  Beata Nowok

Project summary


This project investigated whether individuals who migrate within the UK become happier after the move than they were before it, whether the effect is permanent or transient and whether the outcome depends on motives and types of moves. It also identified life domains with most significant satisfaction changes associated with migration.

The general aim of the project was to investigate a range of non-labour market implications of internal migration and contribute to the literature focusing primarily on labour market outcomes. Areas of particular interest included self-reported psychological, physical and social well-being of migrants. Additionally, it aimed to determine whether or not the effects of changing place of residence are different for various types of migration and whether the changes are permanent or transient.


The longitudinal analysis of changes in well-being around the time of the migration event provides new insights into the implications of migration for the movers. Previous modelling studies on consequences of longer distance internal migration have focused mainly on the labour market outcomes and the material well-being of migrants and have neglected other aspects of social life. The use of panel data allowed the analysis to be innovative in examining whether the effects of migration on well-being are transient or permanent.


From the individual’s perspective migration is nearly always a major life event. The motives for moving from one place to another are usually complicated and the outcome arouses mixed feelings. Migrants experience various economic, environmental and social changes. They may be better-off after the move but their social life may suffer and this can lead to decreased happiness (either in anticipation of migration or after the event).

There are significant well-being changes associated with mobility with the strongest effect in the year of migration. Migrants are happier just after the move than they were just prior to it. A broader temporal perspective reveals, however, that migration is preceded by a decline in happiness. The boost that is received through migration seems to bring people back to their initial level of well-being. Unlike potential returns to human capital, the returns to migration in terms of happiness appear to be time-specific and not to accumulate after migration. In the broader context of well-being the results support the set-point theory of happiness and present mobility as a way by which an individual can regain a stable sense of well-being. This said, the British Household Panel Survey (BHPS) dataset mainly captures short-distance moves, many of which are limited to residential mobility and lifecourse transitions. A different picture might have emerged from a dataset for longer distance migrants.

The project findings make an original contribution by revealing changes in happiness occurring not only immediately before and after the moving, but also over the longer run. Migration can be seen as a potentially positive process that contributes to individuals’ well-being but unevenly in relation to different life domains.


Nowok, B., van Ham, M., Findlay, A. and Gayle, V. (2011) ‘Does migration make you happy? A longitudinal study of internal migration and subjective well-being’. IZA Discussion Paper, No. 6140, Institute for the Study of Labor, Bonn.

Nowok, B., van Ham, M., Findlay, A. and Gayle, V. (2013) ‘Does migration make you happy? A longitudinal study of internal migration and subjective wellbeing’. Environment and Planning A, 45 (4), 986-1002.


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