Mobile Internet Access and the Desire to Emigrate

By Joop Adema, Cevat Giray Aksoy and Panu Poutvaara

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A new EBRD Working Paper (number 264)

In this paper, we present theory and global evidence on how mobile internet access affects desire and plans to emigrate. Our theory predicts that mobile internet access increases desire and plans to emigrate. Our empirical analysis combines survey data on 606,827 individuals from 2,107 subnational districts in 110 countries with data on worldwide 3G mobile internet rollout from 2008 to 2018. We show that an increase in mobile internet access increases the desire and plans to emigrate. Instrumenting 3G rollout by lightning strike intensity and previous 2G infrastructure suggests that the effects are causal. The effect on the desire to emigrate is particularly strong in high-income countries and for above-median-income individuals in lower-middle-income countries. In line with our theory, an important mechanism is that access to the mobile internet lowers the cost of acquiring information on potential destinations. In addition to this, increased internet access reduces perceived material well-being and trust in government. Using municipal-level data from Spain, we also document that 3G rollout increased actual migration flows.

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