NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

Migration as a Test of the Happiness Set Point Hypothesis: Evidence from Immigration to Canada

John F. Helliwell, Aneta Bonikowska, Hugh Shiplett

NBER Working Paper No. 22601
Issued in September 2016
NBER Program(s):Development Economics, Labor Studies, Public Economics, Political Economy

Strong versions of the set point hypothesis argue that subjective well-being measures reflect each individual’s own personality and that deviations from that set point will tend to be short-lived, rendering them poor measures of the quality of life. International migration provides an excellent test of this hypothesis, since life circumstances and average subjective well-being differ greatly among countries. Life satisfaction scores for immigrants to Canada from up to 100 source countries are compared to those in the countries where they were born. With or without various adjustments for selection effects, the average levels and distributions of life satisfaction scores among immigrants mimic those of other Canadians rather than those in their source countries and regions. This supports other evidence that subjective life evaluations, especially when averaged across individuals, are primarily driven by life circumstances, and respond correspondingly when those circumstances change.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w22601

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