Academic journal article Polish Sociological Review

International Experience and Labour Market Success: Analysing Panel Data from Poland

Academic journal article Polish Sociological Review

International Experience and Labour Market Success: Analysing Panel Data from Poland

Article excerpt


In our era of rapid globalization, labour market success depends more and more on transportable skills, global proficiency and personal and professional connections that extend beyond national borders. Building on Becker's insights that one's knowledge, which contributes to substantially differentiating people in their economic well-being, stems from various types of investments in human capital (Becker 1962, p. 9-10), researchers speak of transnational human capital as the "stocks of knowledge and personal skills that enable a person to operate in different fields beyond the individual nation-state" (Gerhards and Hans 2013, p. 102). Indeed, academia and the private sector increasingly seek out personnel who can perform well in multi-national, multicultural environments. As universities push for international research and training collaborations, corporations are sending their employees outside headquarters to do business in established and emerging economies.

Everyone on the labour market should benefit from richer skills, according to theory, and anecdotal evidence points to people of various social backgrounds seeking out international experience. The view that some level of familiarity with other countries is a worthwhile pursuit runs deep in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE). During state socialism, parents went to great financial lengths to enable their children to learn foreign languages, and where possible, to visit abroad-pursuits that still continue.

In theory, international experience represents a good investment, but to date empirical studies examining its effects on stratification outcomes are scant. We know about inequalities in acquiring experience abroad, especially in the form of studying abroad (see Li and Bray 2006, Gerhards and Hans 2013), but have little insights about the returns international experience brings. An exception is Parey's and Waldinger's examination of the effects of studying abroad on international labour market mobility (2011). Using data from Germany, the authors find that, net of other factors, participation in the ERASMUS student exchange program increases one's probability of working in a foreign country by about 15 percentage points (p. 195).

In this paper I use the Polish Panel Survey POLPAN 1988-2008 to analyse the following research hypothesis: the experience that people gain by living abroad, because of the human capital and economic resources that accrue, enhances their success on the labour market above and beyond traditional determinants of achievement. If so, we should observe positive effects on relative income gains and entrepreneurship, which are two common ways to operationalize individual economic success.

Poland represents a strong case for assessing the impact of international experience in transforming societies for several reasons. The scale of temporary migration (i.e. going abroad for a limited time period, usually to work) relative to the entire labour force is particularly large, and the process began before the change of the system (Iglicka 2002; Wallace and Stola 2001). The 1989 systemic change and the rise of the European Union era offered Poles a new way to manage the labor market: moving abroad to find a job, even if temporarily (Okolski 2001; Fihel and GrabowskaLusinska 2014). Migration patterns in Poland differed "as circumstances changed over three distinct periods: 1999-2004 (immediate pre-accession), 2004-2007 (early post-accession) and 2008-2011 (economic recession)" (Okolski and Salt 2014, p. 19). Early Polish migration has been characterized as an "incomplete migration" (Okolski 2001), when migrants go back and forth repeatedly. Though difficult to count, this process involved perhaps hundreds of thousands of people (Fihel and GrabowskaLusinska 2014: 22; see also Kaczmarczyk and Okolski 2008: 602-605). After Poland's EU accession in 2004 that lifted many legal and bureaucratic constraints of the movement of Poles across EU countries, Polish migration became, as Kaczmarczyk and Okolski (2008) aptly noted, "one of the most spectacular population movements in contemporary European history" (600). …

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