Handbook of Research Methods in Migration
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Handbook of Research Methods in Migration

Edited by Carlos Vargas-Silva

Covering both qualitative and quantitative topics, the expert contributors in this Handbook explore fundamental issues of scientific logic, methodology and methods, through to practical applications of different techniques and approaches in migration research.
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Chapter 12: Experimental Approaches in Migration Studies

David McKenzie and Dean Yang


David McKenzie and Dean Yang Individuals and households decide whether or not to migrate – and whether or not to send remittances if they do migrate – with the outcome of these choices depending upon their skills, wealth, risk preferences, ambition, drive, family ties, and a myriad of other observable and unobservable characteristics. This self-selection of migrants poses a severe challenge for researchers attempting to ascertain the impacts of migration or remittances on individuals, families, and communities. For example, suppose we observe that children are more likely to attend school in households with a migrant than in households without a migrant. This may reflect the income effect of remittances, but could just as easily reflect that children in households with migrants have higher quality parental education, or better language skills, or that it is parents who care most about the education of their children who migrate to earn the money needed to pay for schooling costs. As a result, even if we condition on a wide array of observable characteristics, comparisons of migrants and non-migrants are unlikely to give convincing estimates of the impacts of migration. Experimental approaches to migration studies aim to overcome this difficulty by exploiting situations where the reason one household engages in migration or remits and another does not is truly the result of random chance. This may occur as a result of policy experiments, such as visa lotteries; through natural experiments whereby ‘nature’ provides the source of exogenous variation; and through researcher-led field experiments which are explicitly...

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