Immigrants in developed countries typically fail to assimilate in terms of their subjective well-being, meaning that their happiness and life satisfaction do not substantially increase with their length of stay or across generations, and therefore their subjective well-being remains lower than that of natives. This finding contrasts with migrants’ own expectations and the predictions of straight-line assimilation theory, along with the general improvement of immigrants’ objective living conditions with their length of stay. Using European Social Survey data, we show that the gradual development of less positive perceptions of the host country’s economic, political, and social conditions is associated with less positive subjective well-being trajectories among first generation immigrants and across migrant generations in developed European countries. This negative association is particularly strong for immigrants whose societal conditions strongly improved by migration and immigrants who arrived after childhood. However, compared with natives, the more positive societal perceptions of first-generation immigrants are associated with a subjective well-being advantage. We attribute these findings to immigrants’ growing aspirations and expectations that follow from their habituation to better conditions in their host country and fewer (more) comparisons to the inferior (better) conditions of the people in their home (host) country. Our findings suggest that delaying or decelerating the process of immigrants’ faltering societal perceptions is a promising pathway to improved subjective well-being assimilation and reduced frustration about their perceived lack of progress.

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Journal of Happiness Studies
Erasmus School of Economics

Hendriks, M., & Burger, M. (2019). Unsuccessful Subjective Well-Being Assimilation Among Immigrants: The Role of Faltering Perceptions of the Host Society. Journal of Happiness Studies. doi:10.1007/s10902-019-00164-0