Interpreting Migration through the Prism of Reasons for Moves: What Can We Learn about the Economic Returns to Migration from Survey Data?

William A. V. Clark, University of California, Los Angeles
Regan Maas, California State University, Northridge

In the classic model of migration, flows across labor markets occur in response to lower unemployment and higher real wages. This paper provides evidence that this conceptualization may now be an oversimplification of the migration process as a whole. While young male migration is labor market driven, family change, life style choices and housing needs are playing an increasing role in long distance migration decisions. This is not to argue that jobs do not matter, rather employment may be an “enabler” of migration rather than determining migration. Survey data confirms that most moves are not generated by jobs, but that said migration between labor markets brings increases in hourly wages and yearly income. Still, the intersection between economic opportunities and economic gains is not strong. The paper argues that we may be witnessing a shift in migration decision making from an investment decision to a consumption decision.

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Presented in Session 122: Economic Change and Migration to and within the United States