NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
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The Welfare Magnet Hypothesis: Evidence From an Immigrant Welfare Scheme in Denmark

Ole Agersnap, Amalie Sofie Jensen, Henrik Kleven

NBER Working Paper No. 26454
Issued in November 2019
NBER Program(s):Labor Studies Program, Public Economics Program

We study the effects of welfare generosity on international migration using a series of large changes in welfare benefits for immigrants in Denmark. The first change, implemented in 2002, lowered benefits for immigrants from outside the EU by about 50%, with no changes for natives or immigrants from inside the EU. The policy was later repealed and re-introduced. The differential treatment of immigrants from inside and outside the EU, and of different types of non-EU immigrants, allows for a quasi-experimental research design. We find sizeable effects: the benefit reduction reduced the net flow of immigrants by about 5,000 people per year, or 3.7 percent of the stock of treated immigrants, and the subsequent repeal of the policy reversed the effect almost exactly. Our study provides some of the first causal evidence on the widely debated “welfare magnet” hypothesis. While there are many non-welfare factors that matter for migration decisions, our evidence implies that, conditional on moving, the generosity of the welfare system is important for destination choices.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w26454

 
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