Do Frames of Reference Change? Intergenerational Reference Group Effects on Life Satisfaction

Wednesday, 18 July 2018: 18:30
Oral Presentation
Randy STACHE, Philipps-Universität Marburg, Germany
Antje ROEDER, Philipps-Universität Marburg, Germany
Migrants generally move to another country to improve their own and their families’ lifes. The growing literature on satisfaction, happiness and well-being within migration research reflects this by measuring migration success with subjective evaluations of satisfaction with life as a whole.

Various studies show that the “satisfaction assimilation hypothesis” does not apply, thus questioning whether migration is successful in this regard. A range of factors are used to explain why migrants often lag behind in life satisfaction compared to natives, from country of origin characteristics, variations between the countries of destination, to individual traits. This literature shows that the satisfaction gap between first generation migrants and natives can be further traced back to the migration-specific challenge of managing life in a new environment. However, the frequently reported gap between second generation migrants and natives, and more speifically the stagnating life satisfaction compared to the first generation, is less often addressed. Discrimination and social barriers are cited as explanations for this finding, as well as a possible intergenerational change of the reference-group from peers in the origin to those in the host country. Direct tests of this reference-group explanation are still scarce and mainly relate to income without focusing on the second generation or migrants at all. Indeed, as Robert K. Merton already wrote in 1950, changing frames of reference appear to act as a “provisional after-the-fact interpretive concept” to “interpret otherwise anamalous or inconsistent findings“.

The aim of this paper is therefore to test whether, and if so to what extent, reference-group characteristics can explain the intergenerational stagnation of life satisfaction. Based on data from the European Social Survey, different characteristics from three individual sociodemographic equivalent reference groups (native, stayer, migrant) were assigned to migrants and are used as explanations for the missing intergenerational assimilation effect.