Selective migration and urban-rural differences in subjective well-being: evidence from the United Kingdom

Publication type

Journal Article


Publication date

July 19, 2021


Although more and more people choose to live in (large) cities, people in the Western world generally report lower levels of subjective well-being in urban areas than in rural areas. This article examines whether these urban–rural differences in subjective well-being are (partly) driven by selective migration patterns. To this end, we utilise residential mobility data from the United Kingdom based on 12 waves of the British Household Panel Survey. We explore urban–rural differences in life satisfaction as well as changes in life satisfaction of people moving from rural areas to urban areas (or vice versa), hereby paying specific attention to selection and composition effects. The results show that selective migration can, at least partly, explain the urban–rural subjective well-being differential through the selection of less satisfied people in cities and more satisfied people in the countryside. While the average life satisfaction of urban–rural migrants is higher compared to the life satisfaction of rural–urban migrants, we do not find – on average – long-lasting life satisfaction effects of migration. At the same time, there are differences between sociodemographic groups in that we find that a move from the countryside to the city is positively associated with the life satisfaction of students while it is negatively associated with the life satisfaction of people with a non-tertiary education.

Published in

Urban Studies






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