My primary research focuses on subjective well-being (e.g. happiness or life satisfaction). I have written extensively about the relationship between migration and happiness. In general, gaining more money doesn’t make people happier, and so I’m led to wonder whether migration to a wealthier country increases happiness for migrants; I suspect that it makes many of them less happy, that economic migration is sometimes counterproductive insofar as people make great sacrifices to gain more income in the (possibly misguided) belief that the increase will make them happier.
My current research aims to improve the quantitative modelling used to explore causal effects of various factors on subjective well-being. There is a great deal of confusion about how to select control variables for this purpose. I emphasise the need to distinguish between “confounders” (variables that are causally prior not only to the outcome but to the main variable whose impact one seeks to identify) and “intervening variables” (i.e., they intervene in a path from the causal variable to the outcome). To estimate a causal impact, we would control for confounders but exclude intervening variables.
For example, using this distinction, we would not need any control variables to estimate the impact of age on life-satisfaction — because no individual-level variables are causally prior to age. An article that explores this issue in general terms is published in Social Indicators Research.
I am also extending that perspective to reconsider the role of individual-level control variables in multi-level models intended to evaluate the effect of “level 2” (e.g. country-level) variables on outcomes of various sorts. This work is supported by a grant from the British Academy’s “Talent Development” program.
One key finding from this research: rising inequality reduces life satisfaction. When we see that we don’t need individual-level control variables, we can use a longitudinal approach for investigating that topic. Previous research has mainly been cross-sectional and sometimes suggests that inequality is beneficial for life satisfaction — but a longitudinal analysis mitigates bias more effectively and tells us what happens as inequality changes.
Recent publications also draw on a grant from the Economic and Social Research Council for a project titled “The UK Citizenship Process: Understanding Immigrants’ Experiences“, conducted with Leah Bassel (PI), Barbara Misztal and Pierre Monforte.
My most recent book, Key Concepts in Migration, was co-authored with Maritsa Poros of City College of New York and Pierre Monforte of Leicester. Details available at the publisher’s webpage and at Amazon.
I am Co-Editor of the Journal of Happiness Studies, responsible for sociology submissions. I am also President of RC31, the International Sociological Association’s research committee on international migration.