The 2000s were the decade Europe’s educated fled their home countries

Ticket to China.
Ticket to China.
Image: REUTERS/Carlos Barria
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Brains are draining out of Europe, the region where 5.8% people with a college education left their country in 2010, up from 4.4% in 2000.

Europe’s data are unusual for a developed area: as a reference, only 0.6% of college educated left the US in 2010, up from 0.4% in 2000. Yet in Portugal 14% of those with a college degree left the country in 2010, 10.5% did so the UK, and roughly 8.5% in Germany and Italy.

The 2000s were a tough decade for Europe’s economy. Towards the end, the region (as well as the US) was hit by the economic crisis. One of the biggest negative effects of the recession in the US was on unemployment, which doubled in three years, going up from 4.7% in 2007 to 9.7% 2010. However, that didn’t seem to encourage too many people to leave.

In the Euro area unemployment grew less, but it started, and stayed, from a higher level, particularly for the young. According to Eurostat data, from 2000 to 2010 youth unemployment was on average 13.9% in the US, while over 20% in the Euro area.

Since 2000 there have been more brains on the move pretty much everywhere, with two notable exceptions: UK and China. The former has always had one of the highest emigration percentage in Europe, but it went down 1.7 percentage points from 2000 to 2010.

Chinese graduates, on the other hand, never had great mobility. In 2000 only 2.1% of them left the country, and in 2010 the percentage was even lower than that, at 1.9%—roughly 1.7 million people. Meanwhile, China grew at double digits for most of the decade. Per capita GDP rose from $950 to $4,400, and that seems to have encouraged an even higher number of Chinese graduates to work in their home country rather than leaving it.

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Overall the areas with the highest brain drain were Africa, where 9.6% of the college graduates left their home countries, and Latin America, with 7.6%. Still, Africa has experienced a reduction in the emigration rate for the highly educated, which was 0.5 percentage points higher in 2000 (though data for the region tend to be less reliable).

In Latin America, things are different: 6.5% of the most educated were heading somewhere else in 2000—and the trend has only grown stronger. In 2010 there have been 4.4 millions highly skilled emigrants. In 2000, they were 2.3 millions.