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Educated Germans leave home for more money abroad

December 4, 2019

The majority of German emigrants are well-educated young people who find better pay abroad, a new study shows. Many of them, however, choose to return.

Berufspendler | Stöckelschuhe
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/C. Klose

Germans living abroad earn on average €12,000 ($13,200) more than they do back home, according to a representative study published Wednesday.

The Federal Institute for Population Research and the University of Duisburg in Essen interviewed 10,000 German-born people to find out why they emigrated and what effect leaving Germany had on them.

"Over 60% of respondents reported that their net household income abroad was 'better' or 'much better' than their income the year prior," said the Institute's Andreas Ette. For women or people with lower levels of education, the contrast was even greater.

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Around 180,000 German citizens emigrate every year, while another 130,000 return. About 76% of emigrants have a university degree. 

Switzerland is the most popular destination for Germans, with one in five emigrants moving there, followed by Austria, the United States, and Great Britain.

Read more: Where Germans like to emigrate

Career is the number one reason for Germans to move abroad, followed by a desire for a different way of life. Some 37% said their partner's career was the reason for their move. One in five moved to study.

Brain drain? Not quite

The interview subjects were between the ages of 20 and 70 and had either emigrated out of or returned to Germany between July 2017 and June 2018.

Most German emigrants are young, between the ages of 20 and 40, with an average age falling between the ages of 36 and 37.

Read more: Emigration more worrying than immigration for many Europeans, says ECFR study

"There are certainly retired people that emigrate as well, but that is not the typical group. Instead, it's normal that people will go abroad shortly after the end of their studies to begin their career and seek new experiences," said Marcel Erlinghagen from the Institute for Sociology at the University of Duisburg in Essen. "It's important to note, however, that we see a relative remigration. That means the highly qualified people are coming back. You can't call it a long-term loss."

Rather than characterize this movement as a "brain drain", or departure of well-educated people from the country, the study's authors call it a "brain circulation."

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The best come and go

Despite the high departure rate among highly educated Germans, researchers said more than enough qualified people immigrate to Germany from other countries.

"The best leave, but the best also come," they write. 

Currently, 5% of Germans live abroad, putting Germany third in terms of emigration among OECD countries behind Poland and Great Britain. The annual number of German emigrants has risen gradually the 1980s.

kp/sms (AFP, dpa)

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