YOUMIG - Meet researcher Zoltán Csányi who brings notions like ‘well-being’ into project focus


Zoltán Csányi started his research career by taking a degree in economics and international relations from Budapest’s Corvinus university. Haunted by the desire to try his luck abroad, Csányi entered a volunteer programme in a small village near Valencia, Spain where for nine months he worked with young refugees. Spending time 24/7 with young boys fleeing their homeland to arrive in Spain, Csányi found himself teaching languages, playing football or taking kids to the theatre and slowly getting closer to the real-life aspects of migration in the process. The unexpected experience led to further studies, this time in Spain, in a two-year International Migration master’s programme which included time spent in Lille, France and Lisbon, Portugal. Research undertaken at Lisbon University exposed Csányi to new approaches to migration theory and psychological decision-making which became the focus of his graduate studies. Remaining in Spain, Csányi entered a Sociology PhD and immersed himself in methodology issues related to migration studies. His attention turned towards economic psychology, or more specifically, behavioural economics.


Q: How would you describe the issues that most concern you in migration theory?  

A: Coming from the core field of economic sociology, it was clear to me that economic decisions like consumption or various types of investments include psychological factors, and migration is also such an economic decision. An influential scholar in the field, George Katona for example published on decision-making approaches to geographical mobility in the 20th century. Incidentally, he was a multiple migrant: born and studied economics in Hungary, but moved to Germany and the USA later on.

Mainstream economic theory looks on us like robots who respond to all kinds of stimulus in similar, mechanical ways, every time. One factor overlooked here is time. If two years pass I may learn something and not react in the same way to the same situation again. Or two people with vastly different social backgrounds will also likely make different decisions, even if their situation is roughly the same. Under most theories these factors are the exceptions mentioned. Our theory regards behavioural economics as the rule. 

The relationship between emigration and happiness may be surprising. As migration economist Artjoms Ivlevs explained, “in relatively unhappy countries emigration rates fall as average country happiness increases, while the opposite is true for the relatively happy countries; the highest emigration rates are, thus, observed in the most and the least happy countries.”*

Q: How did you get involved in YOUMIG?

A: Enrolling in a euro PhD programme on social economic and statistical studies allowed me to come home and study at Budapest’s ELTE university and this made me continue working back home. I became a return migrant.

I was already working at the Hungarian Central Statistical Office in the methodology department when YOUMIG was recruiting young researchers. My methodological approach brought fresh views to the project, as part of my research focus is quality of life factors and something called subjective well-being. These factors have for some time been used for example in fine-tuning views on GDP, so why not use it for migration? My interest is to bring this approach into YOUMIG research.

Q: What is your responsibility in YOUMIG? What are you working on now?

I am helping colleagues working across different areas in monitoring and revisiting data collection in YOUMIG countries, making sure the vast amount of data useful for migration research are relevant and comparable and that our local experts can analyse these data successfully.

YOUMIG is also a policy-oriented enterprise which means there is a real hunger for empirical evidence. This means our theories must rely heavily on real data and it is my job to ensure that the methodology used adheres to this need.

Another area important for me is the qualitative part of the research – interviews and focus groups are exploring locally the reasons and circumstances young people might decide to migrate. Happiness and subjective well-being scientists are already thinking about questions like: can we buy happiness? How do we perceive our immediate social-economic environment which ultimately influences our decisions? Similarly, when we think about migration: is money the only reason why people decide to leave their home country? Maybe not. There are many reasons why someone may not be satisfied with their job and would leave the country, for instance. The salary is one. But the workload, the colleagues, and even such subjective factors as the building where they work or weather conditions come into play. This is pure psychology and this is the area that interests me in my research. I want to bring these aspects into YOUMIG through exploring these focus points in the analysis to be prepared for each partner city involved.

That work is already under way, so look out for some sneak previews in our project news feed!


 * Ivlevs, A. (2014) Happy moves, Assessing the impact of subjective well-being on the emigration decision. Economic working paper series No. 1402, University of the West of England, Bristol. Retrieved 2017.09.15.


Programme co-funded by European Union funds (ERDF, IPA, ENI)