Sunday, November 14, 2010

Plans and Aspirations

Gallup's recent survey on "migration aspirations" suggests that United States attracts less educated migrants, developed Asia poised to lose most educated, and developing regions loses potential population across the board, etc.

These conclusions are based on three of their indices: Potential Net Migration Index, Potential Net Brain Gain Index, and Potential Net Youth Migration Index. Indices are based on responses from the following questions:

Ideally, if you had the opportunity, would you like to move permanently to another country, or would you prefer to continue living in this country?
(If "would like to move permanently to another country") To which country would you like to move?[Open-ended, one response allowed]
Ideally, systematic data that trace actual migrant movements across borders and record their individual characteristics (skill level, income, etc) would be the most reliable source for making inferences like this. However, as people who study migration or return migration probably understand, this type of data rarely exists. Another alternative is to make inferences based on survey data. First, you ask whether respondents plan to emigrate and where they plan to move to (in the case of emigration studies) or whether respondents plan to return to their home countries (in the case of return migration studies). Then you estimate probabilities of emigration or return migration based on individual characteristics and generate estimates for the coefficients of the variables of interest. 

My main concern about the above conclusions is how Gallup made inferences based on aspirations. For example, when I asked my wife the above 2 questions, her response was that if she had the opportunity, which may imply both budgetary and time permitting, she would want to move to Paris because it sounds so romantic to live there. However, if I changed the wording of the same question to whether you plan on moving to another country and where would you move, her answer changed to "no, there are many realistic concerns I have to take into account." 

Although you could argue that my wife's case may just be an anomaly, it seems pretty plausible to say that answers based on hypothetical questions ("if you had the opportunity") would be very different from questions that are based more on reality ("do you plan to migrate") even when both intentions may not ultimately realize. My bet is that responses to the latter type of question would be closer to actual migration outcomes.

Therefore, here I pose a question to Gallup and readers of this blog: if you had the budget to conduct such a survey, why not ask plans instead of "aspirations"? Am I missing something?

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