The Value of Culture for Predicting Migration: Evidence from Facebook data on national cuisines
One of the strongest empirical regularities in spatial demography is that flows of migrants are positively associated with population stocks at origin and destination, and inversely related to distance. This pattern, first observed in the 19th century, was formalized into what are known as gravity models of migration. Traditionally, distance is measured geographically.
However, other measures of distance, including dynamic ones that involve cultural factors, have also been found to be relevant to explain migration flows. Measures of cultural distance have not been widely adopted in the literature on modeling migration flows in part because of the difficulties associated with operationalizing and producing these measures across space and time. In this paper, we use a scalable approach to obtain proxies for measuring cultural similarity between countries by using Facebook Ads data and illustrate the impact of adding these measures of cultural similarity based on food and drink preferences to gravity models used to predict migration. Our results show that the new measure of food and drink preferences similarity derived from Facebook Ads data adds over and above standard explanatory variables in predicting migration, thus opening new opportunities to understand determinants of migration and to predict migration.