According to economists’ estimates the benefits from lowering barriers to international migration are enormous. But, in a world with more open borders, would the relatively poor people who might benefit most from migration really be able to afford it? A recent working paper by Ran Abramitzky, Leah Platt Boustan, and Katherine Eriksson suggests that they would.
They consider the effect of parental wealth on the decision to migrate among 50,000 Norwegian men during the Age of Mass Migration (1850-1913), a time of minimal government constraints on migration.
Today, high barriers to migration artificially increase the cost of migration, making poorer people less likely to migrate than those with access to wealth. Lowering migration barriers would reduce these costs, making international movement more affordable. The corresponding increase in migration would increase the size of migrant networks, making it more likely that any given poor person would know someone who has moved abroad. Knowing someone who lives abroad would increase the likelihood that a poor person is willing to move in the first place. The expanded networks would also give more poor people access to credit to finance their trips as well as access to community support once they arrive.