International Migration and Cultural Convergence

Hillel Rapoport (Paris School of Economics)
Sulin Sardoschau (DeZIM Institute)
Arthur Silve (Laval University)

Abstract: Does international migration contribute to cultural convergence or divergence between sending and receiving countries? We investigate this question both theoretically and empirically. We first develop a compositional model of international migration and cultural change, where divergence arises from self-selection on cultural traits and convergence arises from social mixing. The model is then adapted to allow for horizontal and vertical cultural transmission following Bisin & Verdier (2000). The model yields a rich set of predictions, which we test empirically using panel data from the World Value Survey and bilateral migration data for the period 1981-2014. We exploit within country-pair variation in cultural proximity over time and find support for the cultural transmission hypothesis. As the model with cultural transmission predicts, migration generates bilateral cultural convergence even if we exclude migrants from the pool of respondents in both countries (hence eliminating social mixing). It is also more likely in the long-run, especially after controlling for economic incentives to migrate and for initial cultural distance, which is consistent with the cultural transmission hypothesis (but not with compositional changes). Interestingly, international migration appears as a stronger and more robust driver of cultural convergence than trade. The results hold for a large set of time-varying cultural distance measures along different statistical and topical dimensions.