Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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International Migration Decision-Making: The Peculiar Case of New Zealand

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posted on 2021-11-14, 00:03 authored by Tabor, Aidan

New Zealand is a peculiar case because it has both high immigration (roughly 23% born abroad) and high emigration (24% of highly skilled New Zealanders live overseas). Within this context, the purpose of this research is to a) examine why some people selfselect to migrate internationally and others do not, b) explore how people make a decision to leave their country of origin, c) investigate how they select a destination, and d) consider how insights learned can contribute to Naturalistic Decision Making (NDM) theory of how decisions are made in the real world. In the first study, three of the largest immigrant source countries were selected for inclusion: United Kingdom/Ireland (with higher wages than New Zealand), South Africa (similar wages), and India (lower wages). Data were gathered through semi-structured interviews with 20 pre-departure and 26 post-arrival migrants to New Zealand. A thematic analysis was conducted separately for each country’s data, resulting in a total of 1564 coded extracts in 43 themes and subthemes. The findings support the view that the migration decision process contains three decisions: whether to go, where to go and when to go. Regarding the question of whether to go, Indian and British participants had very similar reasons for leaving their country of origin: lifestyle and work/life balance, opportunities for work and children, and environment. South Africans were overwhelmingly concerned with quality of life, particularly safety. New Zealand was selected as a destination of choice due to quality of life, climate, accessibility of nature, cultural similarity, career opportunities, visa process transparency and the perception that migrants were wanted. On the question of when to go, unlike much of the decision-making in the research literature, this decision process was a negotiation between partners that occurred over a long period of time, quite often years. The second study explored individual differences, such as personality characteristics, in the international mobility intentions of New Zealanders. In a sample of 205 adults born and currently living in New Zealand, 38.5% were planning to move abroad. Using logistical regression techniques, it was found that higher persistence, openness to experience, extraversion, and promotion focus all increased the chances that a participant was planning departure. Higher agreeableness and conscientiousness lowered the odds of a move. Gender moderated the relationship between sensation seeking and intention to migrate, with women’s decision being influenced to a greater extent than men’s by sensation seeking. Also, gender moderated the relationship between emotional stability and intention to migrate, as men who were lower in emotional stability were more likely to leave. The implications from this research include the following NDM-based assumptions: migration decision-making is a process driven by individual differences, occurs over time, has multiple decision-makers, exists within a social (family) context, has real consequences for the parties involved, is bound by cultural norms, takes place in a dynamically-changing environment (including immigration policy changes, life-stage, family health and resources changes), and is the expression of goals that may change during the process.


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Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline


Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code

970117 Expanding Knowledge in Psychology and the Cognitive sciences

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Psychology


Milfont, Taciano; Ward, Colleen