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The Happiness of the Long-Distance Mover

The Happiness of the Long-Distance Mover

19 April 2017

Whatever their reason for moving, do people who move within a country end up being happier? Looking at migration within Australia, a new study from researchers at Motu Economic and Public Policy Research Trust shows that most people who move end up feeling better about their lives, even if they move somewhere that other people find less happy on average. The researchers found that moving to be near family made people happier than if they moved for financial reasons.

Two new studies from researchers at Motu Economic and Public Policy Research Trust shows that most people who move end up feeling better about their lives, even if they move somewhere that other people find less happy on average. The study uses Australian data.

“Before people move, their subjective wellbeing tends to dip, but straight after they’ve relocated they tend to experience a large jump in subjective wellbeing, even relative to the previous fall. And that rise generally continues for the next four years,” said Arthur Grimes, Senior Fellow at Motu and an author of the report.

“In fact the jump in subjective wellbeing is roughly equivalent to the increase experienced upon marriage, which is consistently shown across studies, including ours, to be associated with a material wellbeing boost,” said Dr Grimes.

“Interestingly, if you move for work reasons, your subjective wellbeing doesn’t rise as much, although your wages are usually higher. On the flip side, if you’ve moved for a new lifestyle or to be closer to friends and family you have greater gains in subjective wellbeing, despite an initial fall in wages,” said Dr Grimes.

One of the papers concentrated on the different experiences of men and women who moved.

“Though men’s wages increase more than women’s after they move, women tend to feel better about their lives after moving,” said Kate Preston, the lead Motu researcher on the gender and migration paper.

“In contrast, there’s no significant trend for how men feel after moving with their partner,” said Ms Preston. “Moving for work-related reasons explains the difference in wage outcomes quite well, but it doesn’t explain why there are different wellbeing outcomes by gender for spouses.”

Both average wages and subjective wellbeing vary across regions, as does the likelihood that people will move. For example, 98.4 percent of people stay put from one year to the next in Tasmania compared with only 91.8 percent of people in Northern Territory.

“What our research means for policy makers is that if they wish to attract (internal) migrants, they should improve local amenities to help increase the subjective wellbeing of their citizens. However to make sure their residents don’t want to leave they also need to have policies that foster local employment and wages,” said Dr Grimes.

Both studies used the Household Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia survey (HILDA), a longitudinal panel dataset. The sample includes over 16,000 Australians from 2001 to 2014. Their subjective wellbeing was assessed through the question “All things considered, how satisfied are you with your life?”

The first study, Wages, Wellbeing and Location: Slaving Away in Sydney or Cruising on the Gold Coast, by Arthur Grimes, Judd Ormsby and Kate Preston was funded by Marsden Fund grant MEP1201 from the Royal Society of New Zealand.

The second study, Migration and Gender: Who Gains and in Which Ways?, by Kate Preston and Arthur Grimes was also funded by Marsden Fund grant MEP1201 from the Royal Society of New Zealand.


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