Friday, 28 September 2018

Return migrants are willing to accept lower wages in exchange for better institutional quality

Last year, I wrote a post about how return migrants to Vietnam prefer areas with higher-quality institutions. The post was based on the research of one of my PhD students, Ngoc Tran, myself, and Jacques Poot. Ngoc recently submitted her PhD thesis for examination, which is a great achievement. Along the way, she completed four research papers (see here, here, here, and here), and also has a forthcoming book chapter. In this post though, I want to focus on the fourth research paper, as it is the most novel.

In the paper, co-authored between Ngoc Tran, Jacques Poot and I, we looked at the intensity of migrants' preferences to high-quality institutions back in their home country. In other words, we asked how much things like absence of corruption, political stability, and the rule of law, mattered for migrants' decision-making about potentially returning home. To measure the intensity of preferences, we used a novel application of the contingent valuation method.

To do this, we first recognised that there are compensating differentials for working in different locations - in areas with higher-quality amenities (such as higher-quality institutions), wages will be lower than in areas with lower-quality amenities (such as lower-quality institutions). We can exploit this to work out what higher-quality institutions are worth, by looking at how much a migrant's income would have to change to make them indifferent between the area with lower-quality institutions and the area with higher-quality institutions.

We did this by asking Vietnamese migrants in New Zealand two questions:
  1. Given your perceptions of the difference in institutional quality between New Zealand and Viet Nam, what would be the smallest level of weekly income before tax in Viet Nam where you would be happy moving back to Viet Nam permanently?; and
  2. Now imagine that the institutional quality in Viet Nam changed so that it was equal to New Zealand in all ways (and everything else remained the same). If this happened, what would be the smallest level of weekly income before tax in Viet Nam where you would be happy moving back to Viet Nam permanently?
The first question allowed us to estimate the compensating different based on the current differences in institutional quality and other amenities between the two countries, as well as migration costs. The second question modifies the institutional quality in Vietnam so that it is equal to that in New Zealand, holding everything else (including migration costs) constant. The difference between the answer to Question 1 and the answer to Question 2 provides an estimate of the willingness of the migrant to accept lower wages in exchange for improved institutional quality in Vietnam.

Our estimates show that willingness to pay for an incremental unit improvement in institutional quality in Viet Nam is, on average, NZD 79.80 per week (approximately 33 percent of the average weekly wage in Viet Nam for the same period). Moreover, older migrants are willing to pay more, as are migrants who perceive institutional quality to be more important for the repatriation intentions.

As far as we know, this is the first paper ever to use contingent valuation to measure the intensity of preference for institutional quality, certainly among migrants if not among any population group. Notwithstanding the continuing debate on the use of the contingent valuation method (which I've written about here, here, and here), this was a really innovative piece of work.

Congratulations again to Ngoc on submitting her PhD thesis!

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