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.

You may purchase this paper on-line in .pdf format from ($5) for electronic delivery.

Access to NBER Papers

You are eligible for a free download if you are a subscriber, a corporate associate of the NBER, a journalist, an employee of the U.S. federal government with a ".GOV" domain name, or a resident of nearly any developing country or transition economy.

If you usually get free papers at work/university but do not at home, you can either connect to your work VPN or proxy (if any) or elect to have a link to the paper emailed to your work email address below. The email address must be connected to a subscribing college, university, or other subscribing institution. Gmail and other free email addresses will not have access.


Machine-readable bibliographic record - MARC, RIS, BibTeX

Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w22601

Users who downloaded this paper also downloaded* these:
Cette, Lopez, and Mairesse w22603 Labour Market Regulations and Capital Intensity
Cappelli and Won w22604 How You Pay Affects How You Do: Financial Aid Type and Student Performance in College
Ray and Robson w22602 Certified Random: A New Order for Co-Authorship
Bulman, Fairlie, Goodman, and Isen w22679 Parental Resources and College Attendance: Evidence from Lottery Wins
Eli, Salisbury, and Shertzer w22591 Migration Responses to Conflict: Evidence from the Border of the American Civil War
NBER Videos

National Bureau of Economic Research, 1050 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02138; 617-868-3900; email:

Contact Us