Academic journal article Sociological Viewpoints

Birds of Passage: Patterns of Brain Drain from Bulgaria before and after the Transition to Democracy1

Academic journal article Sociological Viewpoints

Birds of Passage: Patterns of Brain Drain from Bulgaria before and after the Transition to Democracy1

Article excerpt


Scientific emigration or 'brain drain' from Bulgaria has purportedly increased considerably after the downfall of communism in 1989. The present study utilizes data sets from two large surveys of potential emigration of scientists and engineers in the capital Sofia to examine this phenomenon. The analysis shows that disposition among scientists and engineers to leave Bulgaria and work abroad has not changed substantially between 1989 (10%) and 1993 (12%). What differs is that several waves of brain drain have altered the age structure of R&D manpower. Findings from several OLS multiple regression models using the 1993 data reveal that potential emigration is affected by several factors such as knowledge of English, standard of living, and evaluation of the general perspectives for Bulgarian science. The slow speed of reforms and low salaries are the leading reasons for the decision to emigrate. U.S.A. is the preferred destination for long-term employment abroad.


From the point of view of the future democratic development of Bulgaria as a modern European nation it is of great, if not vital, importance to preserve the creative research and development manpower potential. Limiting this capacity could have tragic long-term consequences for the country. Regrettably, scientific emigration has increased considerably after the democratic events in 1989 due to continued political instability, the slow pace of economic reform, cuts of funds and personnel in research institutes and universities (tightening of the labor market) and, of course, greater openness. The then Minister of Science and Higher Education stated in February 1992 that in 1990, 7,000 people and in 1991, 5,000 Bulgarians (a total of 12,000) with scientific degrees or holding scientific positions had emigrated. This claim was undoubtedly inaccurate, since only 30,000 people had scientific degrees or occupied scientific positions in the country at the start of 1990. It however underlined two important things. First, the government was really worried by the brain drain which was obviously taking place. Second, there were no hard data to estimate the real extent of the phenomenon or the factors that determine it.

This research aims to overcome the lack of systematic study of this phenomenon by providing empirical description and analysis of emigration trends, changes in living and professional conditions in Bulgarian science after 1989, their perception on the part of researchers, and formation of readiness to emigrate, or potential emigration. The present study is an illustration of applied demography and is based on data collected in two large surveys. The first one was conducted in September of 1989 and was commissioned by the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences. The follow-up representative survey of Bulgarian scientists and engineers was carried out in May of 1993 and was commissioned by the Bulgarian Ministry of Science and Higher Education.


Brain drain is a label used to describe the emigration of highly qualified and otherwise talented professionals from one country to another. It is a part of the broader process of international migration (emigration typically is the process viewed from the donor country's standpoint, while immigration is the reciprocal view from the recipient country's standpoint). There are two broadly conceived approaches to defining emigration - the legal and the statistical. The first classifies as emigrants persons who formally change their legal status (i.e., acquire at least permanent residency). The second uses the factual presence or absence of individuals as an indicator of emigration.

The broadest scheme to be employed is the "push-pull" theory, or the explanation of scientific emigration as being caused by both repelling factors in the country of origin and attracting factors in the more developed country of destination. …

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