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lab experiments

Why don’t people migrate more? A lab experiment of sequential decision-making: Guest post by Zach Barnett-Howell

This is the sixteenth in this year’s job market series

Darling you got to let me know // Should I stay or should I go?
One way to escape poverty is to leave it behind. Literally. Moving from a poorer to richer area is so advantageous for individuals that an entire literature on migration has developed to explain why more people don't move.

If you say that you are mine // I’ll be here ‘till the end of time
Bryan, Chowdhury, and Mobarak conducted an experiment in northwestern Bangladesh to induce migration. They offered households a small subsidy to migrate, a round-trip bus ticket worth $8.50. This proved sufficient for people to migrate, and those who migrated earned more and enjoyed higher levels of welfare. So it brought up a new question: why hadn’t those households already decided to migrate?
This immobility is problematic because it’s not supposed to happen. Foundational migration theories, like the Harris-Todaro model, were designed to explain movement from poorer to richer areas. These migrations made sense: people were arbitraging wages and other amenities across space, receiving more by being elsewhere. But how can we explain the opposite—people who don’t migrate—when the welfare gains would be tremendous?

If I go, there will be trouble // if I stay it will be double
In my job market paper I explain why people rationally would not make moves that offer higher welfare. I do this by modeling migration as a sequential decision where people try to figure out which location would suit them best.