Employment and health problems rather than the xenophobia in their new country, are the biggest reasons that migrants feel less happy than average, a new study says.
The British Sociological Association's annual conference in London heard today [Friday 5 April 2013] that economic factors such as unemployment and low income, and their own health problems were the most powerful causes of a lowered wellbeing.
Professor Andreas Hadjar and Susanne Backes analysed data from the European Social Survey on 32,000 first or second generation migrants and 164,700 non-migrants in 30 European countries, including the UK. They compared the migrants' self-reported wellbeing with that of non-migrants for each country.
The researchers, from the University of Luxembourg, found that migrants who moved to countries where people expressed negative views about immigrants scored around 2% lower on their assessment of their wellbeing than the rest of the population in that country, which was not statistically significant.
However, those who were unemployed were almost 7% less happy, those who earned low wages were around 11% less happy, and those with health problems around 9%.
The longer they had been in the country also mattered: first generation migrants living for less than 10 years in a new country scored around 7% lower than the rest of the population. Those living for 10 or more years in a new score around 3.5% lower on their wellbeing than non-migrants.
The results also found that the richer the country the migrants – or their parents if they were second-generation – had moved into, the less happy they were compared to the rest of that country's population. However the higher a country's commitment to equal rights for migrants and non-migrants, the happier were the migrants.
The researchers found that migrants aged 41 to 60 were the least happy, reporting a wellbeing score of 6% less than those aged 22 to 30.
"Xenophobia showed no significant impact on the difference between migrant groups and non-migrants on subjective wellbeing," the researchers say. They suggest the reason for this is that xenophobia harms both the migrants and the rest of the society too, so that the gap between migrants' and others' wellbeing does not increase.
"Both unemployment and deprivation appear to show strong negative impacts on subjective wellbeing. However, results also show that on average people with migration background do rather well integrating themselves into European societies – particularly in countries with constructive integration policies."
Explore further: A two generation lens: Current state policies fail to support families with young children