Academic journal article International Journal of Economic Development

Will Transition Countries Benefit or Lose from the Brain Drain?

Academic journal article International Journal of Economic Development

Will Transition Countries Benefit or Lose from the Brain Drain?

Article excerpt


We analyze the theoretical effects on growth and welfare in transition economies of emigration of educated and uneducated labor, of higher emigration probability, etc. Using a Grossman-Helpman growth model, we show that the prospects of labor market integration with the EU raises the expected returns to education, stimulate human capital formation and thus raise the growth rate in the candidate countries. However, given these expected returns, emigration of educated workers tends to lower growth and welfare of those remaining. Thus, while the brain drain reduces welfare, effects of labor market integration could nevertheless be positive. Emigration of low skilled workers also reduces growth via adverse effects on education. Higher tuition fees, common in transition countries, counteract positive growth effects of market determined wages.


Emigration of skilled workers like scientists and engineers has increased over time (1). The main increases in these flows have been from Asia and Central and Eastern Europe into North America, Australia and Western Europe. Flows of well-educated workers are also likely to increase in the near future as the European Union is enlarged to include a number of candidate countries (CCs) in Eastern Europe. Most EU countries will then open up their labor markets to the new member countries' workers. In this connection, discussion has focused a great deal on the level of education of the workforce in the CCs and consequences of emigration of the best educated. Many citizens in the CCs fear that brain drain will reduce growth and welfare in their home countries.

Emigration from the CCs and other transition countries before 1989 had a strong political component as the lack of political freedom, besides prospects of higher incomes, was a principal factor behind emigration. The social and economic openness after the fall of communism and the freedom of movement changed the balance in favor of economic migration (2). Empirical studies conducted after 1990, show that for some CEECs, the propensity to work abroad has not changed dramatically after the fall of communism. Chompalov (2000) finds that the brain drain from Bulgaria increased after 1989, but, to the best of our knowledge, other empirical analyses of brain drain from candidate countries are not available. The Central and Eastern European countries (CEECs) remain a major potential source of skilled labor for the Western countries. The modest flows of skilled workers after the transition to market economies started can be explained by regulations and poor labor market performance in the EU countries. However, the approaching EU enlargement, in which, labor market integration is a major issue, makes the welfare effects of a brain drain a highly topical issue on the agenda.

The discussion of the brain drain has also been stimulated by studies, notably Barro (1991), showing that level of schooling across countries is a significant variable for explaining growth rates. Hall and Jones (1999) extend the studies by including differences in social infrastructure across countries. Bils and Klenow (2000) elaborate further on Barro (1991) by studying the dual relationship between schooling and growth. In their model, expected growth rate reduces the effective discount rate that leads to an increase in demand for schooling. Their overall conclusion contradicts that of Barro by showing a very weak direct relationship between schooling and growth but a strong effect of growth on schooling.

In light of these results and the potential for East-West migration after the accession of the CCs to the EU, we shall expand on the issue of the brain drain and growth. A particular feature to be analyzed is the fact that the CCs during the 1990s introduced tuition fees in higher education while education before 1990 was financed by taxes. New private universities emerged at impressive rates. In Poland, for instance, 63% of academic institutions are now privately owned, in Romania 60% and in Slovenia 82%. …

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