Essays on Subjective Well-Being: Applications in International Migration, Poverty Alleviation Programs, and Inequality of Opportunity

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This dissertation examines questions pertaining to international migration, participation in poverty alleviation programs, and inequality of opportunity using a subjective well-being approach. The theoretical objective of this dissertation is two-fold - (i) to examine subjective well-being as a factor that induces individuals to make critical decisions and (ii) to examine whether seeking agency or a better life affects subjective well-being.

Chapter 1 examines the effect of life satisfaction on intention to migrate abroad using survey data on 18 Latin American countries. Three key findings emerge that support life satisfaction as a significant driver of intention to migrate abroad. First, the findings suggest that reporting high life satisfaction is negatively associated with intention to migrate abroad controlling for education and other background factors. Second, I find a consistently negative and significant effect of the interaction between high life satisfaction and education suggesting that more educated individuals reporting high life satisfaction are less likely to consider migrating abroad as compared to more educated individuals reporting low life satisfaction. And third, even after controlling for relative deprivation the negative effect of the high life satisfaction and education interaction term on intention to migrate abroad remains statistically significant suggesting that international migration decisions of those with higher education are not solely driven by economic motives. In addition, I find that those who are highly educated (college and higher) are more likely to consider migrating abroad, controlling for life satisfaction and relative deprivation, mainly due to weak economic outlook of and low wages in the home country.

Chapter 2 uses non-experimental regression models and quasi-experimental propensity score matching models to examine the effect of being a recipient of livelihood protecting in-kind social transfers and livelihood promoting microfinance on subjective and objective economic well-being. I find that being a microfinance recipient has significant positive effect on subjective economic well-being of the very poor households. This implies that being a recipient of livelihood promoting poverty alleviation programs makes poor households "feel less poor". Further, being a microfinance recipient also has a significant positive effect on the consumption or objective economic well-being of the very poor households. Disaggregating the positive effect on consumption reveals that being a microfinance recipient significantly increases human capital development expenditures, particularly education and health. In contrast, there is a significant negative effect on the subjective economic well-being of recipients of livelihood protecting social transfers, but the effect does not hold for households that are very poor. Therefore, there is seemingly a stigma associated with receiving social transfers. Contrary to expectation, being a social transfers recipient has a negative effect on consumption, which is possibly due to a substitution effect.

Chapter 3 uses the Human Opportunity Index (HOI) to measure the degree of inequality of opportunity for rural-urban migrant children as compared to urban and rural children in China. I find that migrant children face significantly more inequality of opportunity in basic opportunities as compared to their urban and rural counterparts. Specifically, they experience high levels of inequality of opportunity in education and in basic services such as water and sanitation. With respect to completing primary education on time, only about half of all opportunities needed to ensure universal access are both available and allocated equitably for migrant children as compared to urban and rural children. Similarly, for water and sanitation, opportunities available and equitably distributed are significantly less for migrant children as compared to urban and rural children. Further, within the sub-group of migrants, recent migrants, that is, those who have been residing in the urban area for less than three years are worse-off when compared to migrants who have lived in the city for longer periods of time. Testing the association between migrant childrens' HOI and the subjective well-being of their households suggests that an increase in the HOI is positively and significantly associated with household well-being measured in terms of subjective standard of living and feelings of upward mobility. This implies that improving the outcomes for migrant children could be a policy tool for improving the well-being of migrant households.