Migrant Quality Of Life: A Happier, Healthier Way to Live?

The hecticness of our daily lives, having to precariously balance our work, personal and familial commitments, makes it easy to forget that our daily decisions and life experiences impact our wellbeing – mentally, emotionally and physically – what we commonly refer to as our quality of life.

Quality of life (QOL) is defined in terms of cultural standards and norms, and is how comfortable, healthy and able to participate in or enjoy daily life a person perceives themselves to be. It encompasses physical, emotional, social, spiritual and material well-being. It is highly subjective, thereby making it an ambiguous and multidimensional concept.

QOL is a valuable measure of a population’s general well-being and, often, people tend to report having a good QOL in many countries around the world.

However, a recent spanner in the works – so to speak – that continues to plague our everyday lives is the COVID-19 outbreak. The extensive government regulations and restrictions on a global scale placed a significant strain on the public’s ability to sustain their QOL.

But for migrants, who pack up their lives at home to move abroad and start anew, this creates an additional factor that plays a role in how they may perceive their QOL to be. As such, migrants are somewhat of a special case.

Anecdotally however, we would consider being a migrant to be a happier and healthier way of living, with main reasons for people moving being to seek better employment, to travel and to seek a new way of life, all of which individually reap psychological and physical well-being rewards, contributing to improved quality of life.

But, exempting the impacts of COVID-19, what difference is there – if any – between the QOL of the general population and that of migrants? And to what extent has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted migrants specifically? This will help us unveil the answer to one golden question: can we truly say that being a migrant is a happier and healthier way to live? Let’s find out.

What is the Quality of Life of the General Population?

One research article reviewed nine separate publications and generalised that

large proportions of the general population are satisfied with their lives in a general sense.

Health-related quality of life, which is defined as how happy or satisfied a person is with aspects of their life as far as they are affected by or affect health, is now recommended to be used as one of the measures accounting for both morbidity and mortality. A systematic review, measuring health-related quality of life in children and adolescents in the general population, found that higher levels of physical activity were associated with a better health-related quality of life.

One study even revealed that there is a significant gender difference for quality-of-life scores, with men scoring higher overall. This study was conducted in Malaysia, and its findings are consistent with other studies conducted in the UK, US and in Canada.

Although, it is practically impossible to generalise quality of life to a general population due to its subjective nature. It varies from country to country, and on an individual level, with multiple factors, including diet and exercise, mental health and physical health conditions, employment and socio-economic status influencing quality of life on a personal level.

What is the Quality of Life of the Migrant Population?

When referring to migration generally, evidence has shown that the process of migration increases immigrants’ quality of life, as a result of factors such as increased job satisfaction, improved financial status and better access to education services and healthcare. One study which was published in the World Happiness Report 2018 found that international migrants worldwide rate their quality of life to be 9% higher post-migration.

Further studies investigated the complexity of migrants’ subjective wellbeing. One specifically, which was conducted in Canada, found that – generally – migrants perceived their quality of life to have improved as a result of migrating – despite facing various challenges, such as finding a suitable job and learning a new language.

When looking at happiness, it has also been found that the average migrant experiences around 7% less negative emotions and 5% more positive emotions after migrating. The 2013 World Migration Report, which collected the experiences of 25,000 migrants in 150 countries, found that one of the reasons for gains in wellbeing was individuals migrating to rich countries, which report higher levels of financial security, life satisfaction, health and personal safety.

However, there is equal evidence to show that the process of migration can influence psychological and physical well-being negatively. Research has shown that migration can place migrants at an increased risk of mental health problems, including depression. And the scientific literature has evidenced that those with mental health problems often report poorer quality of life. Thus, it could be argued that migrants, due to their increased risk of mental health problems, are considerably more likely to report a poorer quality of life.

Conversely, however, research has shown that the physical health of migrants appears to be better than that of natives. One study conducted in the UK found that there was a ‘migrant health advantage’, in which migrants were reported to be healthier than the UK born population. As physical functioning is a domain relating to health-related quality of life, this could imply that migrants have a better quality of life in this domain.

Further evidence comparing immigrants to natives found that migration has no impact on health-related quality of life. But conversely, when measuring life satisfaction, immigrants have been shown to have lower life satisfaction compared to natives according to a study using data from the European Social Survey. This finding was consistent with other research.

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Does Residing Country Matter?

Simply put – yes. Depending on where you are or where you have already migrated to, this may influence your quality of life. According to the Quality of Life Index, there are a number of countries around the world that have a significantly higher expat quality of life rate than others, these include:

1) Taiwan

Subcategories including health and wellbeing and travel and transportation contribute to Taiwan’s considerably high rating on the quality of life index for expats. With expats appreciating the affordability of their healthcare (in 94% of cases) and the quality of this care (in 96% of cases).

2) Austria

Austria has been noted to have great travel and transportation, environmental quality and health and wellbeing by expats living there. 95% of expats in Austria reported being satisfied with their travel opportunities, 98% liked the natural environment and 82% felt that the healthcare was affordable.

3) Portugal

Portugal was home to some of the happiest expats globally. A whopping 84% reported being happy with their life, and nearly four fifths of expats were happy with their leisure activities and socialising.

The UK ranks 36th, whilst Ireland takes 50th place for quality of life of expats in the Quality of Life Index 2021. 

The Unprecedented Effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic sent the world into a downward spiral, changing the lives of millions of people around the world, with unprecedented increases in infections and mortality rates, full-scale societal lockdowns and straining of countries’ economies.  

Not only this, but the varied and extensive impacts of the pandemic had catastrophic impacts on individuals’ quality of life. The pandemic has inflicted immense stress and psychological strain on the public, with recent evidence showing that this may contribute to long-term mental and physical health problems. The enforcement of measures, including national lockdowns, had a direct negative influence on psychological distress contributing to a reduced quality of life. Regulations such as social distancing also decreased mental wellbeing, and those with little perceived social support during the pandemic were at an increased risk of depression symptoms.

Upon looking at quality of life, one study did find that participants’ quality of life was moderately disrupted during the COVID-19 pandemic, and, given the fact that some restrictions are still ongoing in some countries around the world, there is no doubt that the negative implications of the pandemic are continuing to impinge on the quality of life of millions around the world.

However, it’s not all bad news. Some research even brought to light that, in some cases, the COVID-19 pandemic encouraged a positive impact on family support and mental health awareness in adults. But this doesn’t distract from the fact that the impacts of the pandemic have been overwhelmingly negative overall.

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Simply put, there is mixed evidence as to whether migrants have a better quality of life in comparison to the general population, and multiple confounding and complex factors make it difficult to be able to whittle any evidence down to answer our question of which cohort has a better quality of life. It is undoubtable however that migrating does have considerable positive impacts on migrant quality of life, and that the pandemic has caused potentially irreversible damage on the wellbeing and quality of life of millions worldwide.

What do you think – whether it be from personal experience or knowledge, is being a migrant a happier and healthier way to live your life? Let us know in the comments below.

Charlotte Pitts
Charlotte Pitts

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