Brits who migrate to Costa del Sol more unhappy than those who stay at home


Quitting the daily grind for a new life on the Costa del Sol might seem a tempting option. But Britons who chase the sun and migrate to the Mediterranean are actually less happy than if they had stayed at home, an academic study has found.

Almost 3,000 Britons move abroad each week, with around five million now living outside the UK.

However our inability to adapt to the language and culture of these sunkissed new homes means the search for a better lifestyle has made British migrants unhappier.

Dr David Bartram, of the University of Leicester, said that migrants from the UK and five other northern European countries who went to Spain, Portugal, Greece and Cyprus were less happy than people who stayed behind.

In a paper to be delivered at the British Sociological Association’s annual conference in Leeds today, Dr Bartram analysed survey data on 265 migrants from Belgium, Switzerland, Germany, Netherlands, France, and 73 from the UK, who resettled in the Mediterranean countries.

When asked how happy they were on a scale of 0-10, the migrants scored 7.3 on average, compared with the average of 7.5 for 56,000 people studied who had remained in the northern countries.

Dr Bartram then analysed the data to take account of differences between migrants and those who stayed in terms of age, health, income, education, employment and religious beliefs, to make sure these factors did not distort the results.

This confirmed that it was the fact of having migrated that made the respondent less happy, by about 0.3 of a point on the 10-point scale on average, compared with those who stayed behind. For British migrants the gap was larger, with migrants 0.4 of a point less happy than those staying in the UK.

“The key finding from the analysis is that people from northern Europe who migrated to southern Europe are less happy than the stayers in northern Europe,” said Dr Bartram.

He said that the migrants had higher incomes than the average in their new country, because they were often better educated and less likely to be retired. Some theories predict that this would make them happier because they had higher status.

However, Dr Bartram had found the reverse, perhaps because “migration itself can be disruptive to other dimensions of people’s lives – social ties, sense of belonging – possibly with consequences for their happiness”. 

Dr Bartram, who studied data from the European Social Survey recorded between 2002 and 2010, said that British migrants sometimes found that their qualifications were not recognised in their new home and they were forced to take jobs with a lower social status than expected.

They felt excluded from workplace banter and local community networks because of a British reluctance to learn foreign languages and integrate, Dr Bartram suggested. Nine out of 10 British migrants are of working age, with the largest group being 25 to 44 year olds.

Spain, the most popular EU destination for ex-pats, is losing its appeal. Last year 14,799 British citizens departed, as the total number of Britons living in Spain fell 3.7 percent to 383,093. Changes to tax laws affecting non-Spanish residents and the country’s 26 per cent unemployment rate have contributed to the decline.

The new study mirrored a previous survey Dr Bartram conducted which found that money does not necessarily buy happiness for migrants coming to Britain. Those who came in search of better salaries often have exaggerated expectations of life here and end up disappointed.

He said: “Within the European Union opportunities for such migration are abundant, and migration flows in this mode have reached significant dimensions. The analysis in this paper, however, raises doubts about whether migration in this mode will result in greater happiness for the migrants.”

Migration in numbers

  • 320,000 – number of people who left the UK in 2013
  • 1.4m – Brits living and working in EU countries
  • 383,093 – Brits living in Spain