Aspirations and Happiness of Potential Latin American Immigrants

There is a nascent body of literature examining the impact of migration and income on happiness.
Several studies show that Latin American emigrants, in addition to immigrants generally,
demonstrate lower happiness levels than natives do in their destination country. In trying to
explain this finding, researchers have asked whether unhappiness drives migration or whether the
results of migrating make people unhappy. A major challenge in answering this question is the
difficulty in acquiring and thus the absence of longitudinal data that follow individuals before and
after the migration process.

This paper seeks to provide additional insight into the relationship between migration and
unhappiness, but in lieu of longitudinal data, we utilize a survey question from the Latinobarometro
survey on the intent to migrate to identify attitudes and aspirations prior to migration. Through
this analysis, we are taking an initial step to answer the larger theoretical question: is unhappiness
necessary to drive progress and major change in a society? Our results suggest this is the case: those
that intend to migrate demonstrate the qualities of “frustrated achievers” (e.g. respondents with
high objective success in terms of income, but who report low satisfaction with their economic gains) and are less happy than average. These findings provide support for the reasoning speculated
in the literature as explaining lower happiness levels among Latin American migrants.