Cognitive and Noncognitive Skills and the Selection and Sorting of Migrants

Aline Bütikofer, Giovanni Peri

NBER Working Paper No. 23877
Issued in September 2017, Revised in September 2018
NBER Program(s):Labor Studies

There is growing evidence that cognitive and noncognitive skills are strong predictors of the economic and social outcomes of individuals. In this paper, we analyze how they affect the migration decisions of individuals over their lifecycles. We use data that combine military enlistment and administrative records for the male population born in 1932 and 1933 in Norway. Records of interviews with a psychologist at age 20 allow us to construct an index of `sociability' and `adaptability' for each individual, as well as an index of cognitive ability, the intelligence quotient. We find that adaptability and cognitive ability have significant and positive impacts on the probability of an individual migrating out of his area, whether this involves rural-urban, long distance, or international migration. Adaptability has a particularly strong impact on migration for individuals with low cognitive skills, implying a strong positive selection of less educated migrants with respect to the (previously unobserved) adaptability skill. We also show that cognitive skills have a strong positive effect on sorting of migrants across destinations, whereas adaptability has no significant effect on sorting. This evidence suggests that adaptability reduces the psychological cost of migrating, whereas cognitive skills increase the monetary returns associated with migration.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w23877

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