Use of mobile internet and desire to leave the country

Mobile Internet has changed the way people live, work and exchange information. Rapid broadband can increase household income and affect political awareness. This column examines how 3G mobile internet rollout affects people’s will and emigration plans. The increase in 3G coverage increases the aspirations and plans of individuals to emigrate, especially for those who do not have a network abroad, when it negatively affects the notion of relative financial well-being and confidence in the government. Internet access can reduce the cost of searching for information abroad, as well as increase the likelihood of emigration.

The Internet and mobile phones have changed the way people live, work, connect and exchange information. The number of global Internet users increased from 410 million in 2000 to about 4.9 billion in 2021, and the double-digit growth is expected to continue (International Telecommunication Union 2021). The vast majority of Internet users have access through a mobile phone – in 2019 there were over 3.5 billion mobile Internet subscribers (GSMA 2019).

In recent years, research has established that the Internet has significant economic and political implications. Hjort and Poulsen (2019) show that the advent of fast broadband internet has positively affected employment in Africa. Xuo (2021) shows that poor families in the United States have increased employment prospects and their incomes after gaining access to the Internet. Guriev et al. (2019) establish that the rollout of 3G mobile internet raises awareness about government corruption and reduces trust in political institutions without Internet censorship.

Adema et al. (2022), we study how 3G mobile internet rollout affects people’s will and emigration plans. We combine two unique data sets: Gallup World Polls and Collins Bartholomew’s Mobile Coverage Explorer. Collecting them gives us data from 617,402 people living in 2,120 tribal areas in 112 countries, collected over a period of more than 11 years. In order to have a causal effect on the desire and planning of immigration, we take advantage of the diversity of subnational 3G mobile internet coverage over time.

Immigration aspirations and plans are involved in the flow of immigration

We first examine whether the variables in our results (i.e., the will and plan of immigration) are significantly linked to the actual migration flow. We use the fact that we observe the most desirable destination of individuals as well as the destination country they are planning to visit. We use this data to calculate the number of people who are willing and planning to relocate between any source and destination country. We then matched our desired and planned migration-flow matrix with the actual migration flow data in OECD countries between 2008 and 2018.

The results presented in Figure 1 confirm that the variables in our results are strongly correlated with official migration flow data between 2008 and 2018. We find that the source-destination level crude relationship between actual migration flow logs and number logs. The number of people willing to transfer from a particular source to a specific destination is 0.77 The correlation between the actual migration flow log and the number of people willing to move from a particular source to a specific destination is 0.68.

Figure 1 The relationship between the purpose of migration and the actual migration flow

Increasing 3G coverage affects desire and emigration plans

We see that the desire to increase 3G coverage has a significant effect on emigration plans and the effect is almost linear (Figure 2). The 10 percent increase in 3G mobile coverage increased the desire to leave the country permanently by 0.27 percentage points. In addition, we see that such an increase leads to a 0.09 percentage point increase in our preferred specification in the plan to leave the country permanently in the next 12 months.

When moving from No. 3 to full 3G coverage, the overall impact inherently is about 12% of the baseline average of desire and 33% of plans to leave the country permanently. Estimates indicate that in a country with a population of 10 million adults, moving from 3G coverage to full coverage would increase the number of people willing to leave the country from 56,000 to 486,000.

Using municipal-level data from Spain, we also show that 3G expansion not only changes the desire to emigrate but also increases the actual emigration of citizens. Our estimates suggest that switching from 3G coverage to full 3G coverage has resulted in a 15% increase in the annual migration rate from the level before increasing 3G coverage.

Figure 2 The non-parametric effect of 3G rollout on emigration

Differential analysis using causal forest

We also look beyond the average effect to understand how causal effects change with observable properties. We find the strongest therapeutic effect for high-income individuals in high-income areas and the lowest effect for low-income individuals in low-income areas (Figure 3).

Figure 3 Heatmap of conditional average treatment effect (CATE)

Exploring the mechanisms behind our results, we show that the impact of 3G coverage on emigration aspirations is strongest for those who were abroad without any prior network; We do not find any statistically significant impact for those who already have a network abroad. In addition, after receiving 3G coverage, the preferred destinations shifted to destination countries where immigrants from the same source had less stock in 2005. It suggests that Internet access primarily increases the likelihood of emigration by reducing the cost of searching for opportunities abroad. Personal network.

We also show that 3G coverage does not change respondents’ perceptions of their financial situation (such as family income) or the level of corruption in their country. Instead, 3G coverage has a negative impact on the notion of relative financial well-being as well as confidence in the government, which potentially shapes the desire to emigrate.


Our results highlight that access to mobile internet not only increases the overall desire to emigrate but also has the potential to redirect immigration flows to less popular destinations. In the medium term, it can be expected to increase international trade and knowledge transfer in the parent countries (Parsons and Vezina 2018, Fackler et al. 2020) and also stimulate innovation in the destination countries as economic prosperity has been found to be related to birthplace diversity al. 2013).


Adema, J, CG Aksoy and P Poutvaara (2022), “Mobile Internet access and the desire to emigrate”, CESifo Working Paper No. 9758.

Alesina, A, J Harnoss and H Rapoport (2013), “Migration, Diversity, and Economic Prosperity”,, 22 August.

Fackler, T, Y Giesing and N Laurentsyeva (2020), “Transmitting knowledge: does emigration encourage innovation?”, Research Policy 49 (9): 103863.

GSMA (2019), Mobile internet connection status.

Guriev, S. N. Melnikov and E. Zhurvskaya (2019), “Knowledge is Power: Mobile Internet, Government Confidence and Democracy”,, 31 October.

Hjort, J, and J Poulsen (2019), “Rapid Internet and the Advent of Employment in Africa.” American Economic Review 109 (3): 1032-79.

International Telecommunications Union (ITU) (2021), Measuring Digital Development: Data and Statistics 2021, Geneva: That.

Parsons, C, and PL Vegina. (2018), “Migrant Networks Boost Trade: Evidence From Vietnamese Boat People”,, 15 August.

Zuo, GW (2021), “Wired and Rented: The Impact of Subsidized Broadband Internet Employment for Low-Income Americans”, American Economic Journal: Economic Policy 13 (3): 447–82.

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