Do Emigrants Self-Select Along Cultural Traits? Evidence from the MENA Countries

This article empirically investigates whether emigrants from MENA (Middle East and North Africa) countries self-select along two cultural traits: religiosity and gender-egalitarian attitudes. Using Gallup World Poll data on individual opinions and beliefs and migration aspirations, we find that individuals who intend to emigrate to high-income countries exhibit significantly lower levels of religiosity than the rest of the population. They also share more gender-egalitarian views, although this effect holds only among the young (aged 15 to 30), among single women, and in countries with a Sunni minority. For countries most affected by the Arab Spring, the intensity of cultural selection has decreased since 2011. Still, the aggregate effects of cultural selection should not be overestimated. Self-selection along cultural traits has statistically significant but limited effects on the cultural distance between people (i.e., between migrants and natives at destination or between non-migrants in origin and destination countries). Emigration could even reverse the selection effect and lead to cultural convergence if migrants abroad transfer more progressive norms and beliefs to their home country, a mechanism that deserves more attention in future research.

Docquier, F., Tansel, A., & Turati, R. (2019). Do Emigrants Self-Select Along Cultural Traits? Evidence from the MENA Countries. International Migration Review.