Looking Down or Looking Up: Status and Subjective Well-Being among U.S. Asian and Latino Immigrants

Julia Gelatt, Princeton University

Foundational theories of international migration rest on the assumption that immigrants maintain reference groups in their country of origin even after settling in a new place. Such assumptions are extended in popular accounts to argue that immigrants therefore do not mind dirty, dangerous, or demeaning jobs that native-born workers shun. This paper uses data from the National Latino and Asian American Survey to examine whether immigrants' subjective well-being is shaped more by social comparisons in the home country, as theory would predict, or by social comparisons in the United States. I find that both rational assessments of the decision to migrate and affective well-being are more closely associated with comparisons to others in the United States than comparisons to those in the home country. This finding challenges migration theories, and suggests the need for further research on the effects of destination country social status on international migrants.

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Presented in Poster Session 3