In Europe, Migrants Rate Their Lives Worse Than Native Born

In Europe, Migrants Rate Their Lives Worse Than Native Born

by Neli Esipova and Magali Rheault

Migrants' financial wellbeing improves as their length of stay increases

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Migrants in 15 European Union countries, regardless of how long they have lived in those countries, rate their lives worse than the native born. Native-born residents on average rate their lives today a 6.6 on a 10-step ladder scale, where 10 represents the best possible life and 0 is the worst. Long-time migrants rate their current lives a 6.0 and newcomers a 5.9.

Life Evaluations of Migrants and the Native Born in Europe

These data suggest that the way migrants assess their lives does not improve the longer they live in a country. Gallup defines migrants who moved to their current country of residence less than five years ago as newcomers, while those who have been living in their adopted country for at least five years are considered long-timers. Because of relatively large differences in certain demographic characteristics, Gallup adjusted the data for age, gender, and education differences among the three groups.

There are no differences in how long-timers and newcomers evaluate their lives, based on the Cantril Self-Anchoring Striving Scale. When evaluating their lives, residents are likely considering a number of factors, including their standard of living, housing, job, marriage, and personal health. Gallup research shows that at the national level, evaluative wellbeing correlates with income, education, and health.

The lack of improvement in migrants' life evaluations as they spend more time in their adopted country contrasts with the changes they report in their financial wellbeing. Long-timers are more likely than newcomers to report living comfortably on their current household income, and less likely to say they lacked money to buy food or provide shelter for themselves and their families in the past 12 months.

Economic Status of Migrants and the Native Born in Europe

These results suggest that migrants' financial status may improve as they stay longer in their new country. But long-timers still trail the native born by a relatively large margin on these measures.

Overall, migrants, especially newcomers, are far more likely than the native born to be unemployed (not working and actively looking for work) or underemployed (unemployed or working part time but wanting full-time work).

Employment Status

Migrants Experience More Negative Emotions

Experiential wellbeing, which measures a set of positive and negative feelings individuals experience during the day, provides an important dimension of migrants' emotional experiences in their country of residence. Newcomers are the most likely to report feeling a lot of worry, sadness, depression, and stress the day prior to the survey, while all migrants are equally likely to report feeling anger. When asked about positive experiences, migrants are less likely than the native born to report feeling a lot of such emotions the day before the survey, although the differences are not as large as for negative emotions.

Migrants' Experiential Wellbeing

Bottom Line

Gallup's findings suggest that while migrants' financial wellbeing improves with their length of residence in their adopted country, their life evaluations remain flat. This more positive financial situation suggests some economic mobility, at least for some migrants. However, even long-time migrants face higher unemployment and underemployment and struggle more financially than do the native born. The results also suggest that factors other than economics are at play in migrants' evaluative wellbeing.

Between 2004 and 2009, population growth in the EU was primarily the result of net migration. It is likely that immigration and migrants' integration will remain hot issues in Europe. As such, the Gallup findings provide important evidence of the migrant experience on which to base discussion.

The full results of this analysis appeared in the May issue of Migration Letters.

Anita Pugliese and Kirti Kanitkar contributed to this report.

For complete data sets or custom research from the more than 150 countries Gallup continually surveys, please contact or call 202.715.3030.

Survey Methods

Results are based on with more than 25,000 adults, aged 15 and older, conducted in 2009 and 2010 via telephone in Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom and face-to-face in Greece. A total of 23,023 interviews were conducted among the native born, 1,928 interviews among long-timers, and 420 interviews among newcomers.

For more complete methodology and specific survey dates, please review Gallup's Country Data Set details.

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