Moving to a Richer Country Probably Won’t Make You Happier

New research shows that people who move to wealthier countries don't become happier

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As far as migration patterns go, this one seems to make sense: leave your native country for a more economically prosperous one and ultimately work towards a better, happier life.

But as new research suggests, immigrants who move to richer nations are unlikely to find greater economic prosperity — or greater happiness — in their adopted countries.  In the journal Migration Studies, sociologist David Bartram from England’s University of Leicester analyzed data from the European Social Survey.

(MORE: What If Rich Countries Shut the Door on Immigration?)

Bartram compared the happiness of people who left Eastern European countries to live in Western European countries with the happiness of those who remained (a.k.a “stayers”). Analysis of the data (which included 42,000 participants) did indicate that the migrants were, on the whole, happier than the stayers — but not as a result of the migration. Instead, the migrants were already happier prior to moving — and thus, the migration itself didn’t appear to boost anyone’s happiness overall.

Within the findings, here was some variation from country to country. The study found that migrants who left Romania and Russia did see a higher level of happiness in their new countries, which the researchers attributed to the fact that average happiness in those countries is quite low. Migrants from Poland, on the other hand, experienced a decrease in happiness. But otherwise, happiness levels remained largely stagnant.

Of course, happiness can be difficult to quantify. In an article published on Quartz, Bartram explains how happiness was defined for the purpose of this study. “In economic terms, what matters for happiness is the way one compares oneself to others. If one’s income rises in line with the incomes of others, relative position does not change, and so happiness remains unchanged as well.”

So basically, if you’re hoping to live a happier life, don’t try moving to a richer country. Instead, you could try reading TIME’s recent cover story on the pursuit of happiness.

MORE: Study: 23 and 69 Are the Happiest Ages

2 comments
cjh2nd
cjh2nd

not really sure what's so surprising about the fact that being poor and marginalized in a wealthy country doesn't result in happiness

PatricioCorona
PatricioCorona

I think this analysis could be wrong in so many cases, specially mexicans or  latin americans in general who go to the US for a better life.  First of all, the American Neoliberalism has driven latin american countries to new highs of poverty, lack of opportunities and wedges that can't compete with inflation levels rising every decade since Reagan "let the bull loose" in the 80's.      

My wife's family is a clear example of how happy moving to a richer country could turn out, and it does not have anything to do with "becoming rich" but with having better opportunities for you and your children.  Her aunt moved to California 20 years ago, her older daughter who has been always very fond of mathematics has been now accepted into UCLA with a scholarship.  They are very proud of their 3 children and it seems that all 3 of them will get higher education.  IF she would have stayed in Mexico in the conditions that they were living, they would NEVER could imagine one of their daughters getting into one of the most prestigious universities in the world.   

So you can see how they changed their descendants future just by moving to a richer country.