Migration and Mental Health: Evidence from a Natural Experiment

Steven Stillman, Motu Economic and Public Policy Research
John Gibson, University of Canterbury
David McKenzie, World Bank Group

People migrate to improve their well-being, whether through an expansion of opportunities or a reduction in persecution. Yet a large literature suggests that migration can be a very stressful process, with potentially negative impacts on mental health reducing the net benefits of migration. This paper overcomes the selection problems affecting previous studies of the effect of migration on mental health by examining a migrant lottery program. New Zealand allows a quota of Tongans to immigrate each year with a lottery used to choose amongst the excess number of applicants. A unique survey conducted by the authors in these two countries allows experimental estimates of the mental health effects of migration to be obtained by comparing the mental health of migrants who were successful applicants in the lottery to the mental health of those who applied to migrate under the quota, but whose names were not drawn in the lottery.

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Presented in Session 92: Issues in the Measurement and Modeling of Migration Processes