1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

International poll shows one in three would emigrate

Bettina Marx
February 4, 2023

Pollsters at Gallup International have discovered that 36% of people around the world would prefer to live in another country. DW spoke with Gallup International President Kancho Stoychev about the findings.

Signposts indicating the distance from Chisinau to a variety of foreign cities, Stefan Cel Mare Boulevard, Chisinau, Moldova
In times of war and economic uncertainty, migration becomes more attractiveImage: SKATA/IMAGO

DW: Mr. Stoychev, in a recent poll, Gallup International asked people in 57 countries whether they would prefer to live in another country or stay where they are. More than one third said they would like to emigrate. How do these figures compare with previous surveys on this subject?

Kancho Stoychev: First of all, our question sought to measure only a general potential willingness to change country of residence — provided that the legal paperwork was not an obstacle. In other words, this question really aimed to establish general satisfaction/dissatisfaction with life in the given country, rather than to identify an immediate decision to leave it. Standard statistics provide actual emigration figures for each country, so no polling is needed on that aspect.

People migrate for many different reasons. Indeed, migration is, to a certain extent, normal and in many cases positive. Our study reveals that a global average of about one third of the adult population would be willing to emigrate. Under the current global circumstances, this is probably the norm. But I would like to stress again that our indicator is a very general one. Nevertheless, it gives a good indication of the subjective personal perception of the relationship between the place where a person lives and the quality of life that he or she expects or desires.

The yola, a small boat, which carried 12 illegal immigrants from the Dominican Republic, sits on the beach in Aguadilla, Puerto Rico, April 25, 2004
Many migrants from the Dominican Republic try to enter the United States illegally through Puerto RicoImage: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Compared with previous studies, we registered a slight increase in emigration potential. Perhaps this is not really a surprise. Younger generations — including those in Europe — are more and more mobile. Poor urban populations in many parts of the world — especially in the so-called developing world — are desperate to leave for a better place. Very successful people from small countries often don't see enough potential to develop their skills in a small market.

Naturally, in times of war and global economic crisis, uncertainties increase and migration often becomes more attractive. I see no surprise here, actually. The younger and poorer the people, the greater the likelihood of migration.

Your figures show that respondents from lower-income countries are more likely to want to emigrate. At the same time, your analysis shows that while a respondent's own income, education or occupation profile makes little difference to his or her willingness or motivation to emigrate, general income levels do play a significant role. What conclusions can be drawn from this?

It's not surprising that on a national level, people from low-income countries want to migrate to a place where the standard of living is higher. People always compare. Naturally, people want a better life, but not necessarily because the current one is bad.

Refugees from Ukraine wait in line to register at the arrival centre for refugees in Berlin, March 10, 2022
Ukraine was not included in Gallup International's survey because approximately one-third of the population has already leftImage: Jens Schicke/IMAGO

On a personal level, however, it is the conditions one lives in that matter. So, to migrate to a country that offers better possibilities, better conditions, more options for recognition and even better chances to earn more money is quite understandable and normal.

Nowadays, migration is a matter of visibility, comparability and choice, together with traditional drivers like living standards. Migration today is more a matter of mobility than necessity — an inevitable impact of globalization.

Surprisingly, the survey shows that more people want to migrate from European Union countries than from non-EU countries. Why is this?

To answer this question, we first have to consider which EU and non-EU countries were surveyed. Migration within the EU is consistent: Many people in the EU say they would migrate, just because they can. In this case, however, migration is mostly from one EU country to another. Mobility in the EU is dynamic. It is also one of the freedoms and rights of being an EU citizen.

People attend a concert in Red Square to celebrate the results of the referendums on joining Russia held in eastern and southern Ukraine, Moscow, Russia,  September 30, 2022.
The Gallup Interntional survey indicated that a comparatively low percentage of Russians would like to live in another countryImage: Alexander Shcherbak/dpa/TASS/picture alliance

In the non-EU countries covered by our survey — Armenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kosovo, Moldova, North Macedonia, the Russian Federation and Serbia — the conditions for mobility and the geopolitical orientation are different. Is it possible to migrate, and if so, where to?

There are no figures for Ukraine in your study. Did you leave Ukraine out because of the war?

Unfortunately, the war makes it difficult to conduct a survey in Ukraine. There would also be a question mark over the relevance of the data obtained because approximately one third of the population has already left. It would be much more informative to find out how many people will stay in Ukraine and how many will return. But this would mean concentrating on Ukraine; the purpose of our poll was to make a global comparison.

Moldova is not only one of the poorest countries in southeastern Europe, it is also the one most threatened by Russia's aggression against Ukraine. Nevertheless, your figures show that only 23% of the population want to leave — a much smaller number than in Bosnia and Herzegovina (48%) and North Macedonia (42%). Why is that?

Anyone who wanted to emigrate has already done so. Moreover, the war has also motivated some people to stay and protect their country. There may also be some people who — for whatever reason — expect something positive. And at the end of the day, it's not very acceptable to state in an interview that you are willing to turn your back on the country of your birth in difficult times.

Kancho Stoychev
Kancho Stoychev, president of the Gallup International AssociationImage: Gallup International Association

Bosnia and Herzegovina and North Macedonia are totally different cases: The EU accession of both countries is a very long way off and people don't want to wait any more. If you feel that the place you live has been deteriorating for a long time, the key question becomes not why you should leave but why you should stay. In the case of these two countries, the number that would emigrate is about 50% higher than the EU average.

Since the war in Ukraine began, many European countries have seen a considerable influx of migrants from Russia. These are people who want to escape mobilization, who oppose the war or who long for a more democratic, open society. Nevertheless, your survey indicates that only 15% want to emigrate. Why is this?

It's not surprising. Many studies have shown high levels of patriotism in Russia and significant support for what we in the EU strongly reject. Historically, Russia has often demonstrated high levels of internal integration in difficult times. Let's not forget that the dominant narrative there is totally different to that in the West, and that millions of Russians who don't approve of current events have already left.

Even more puzzling is the very low figure for countries such as Vietnam or India

Both countries have experienced rising growth in the last decade. Willingness to leave a successful team is never very high. And let's not forget the cultural and religious aspects, the national identity strengths, the traditions, etc. In the West, we are still extremely Eurocentric; we still believe we are the center of the world. The historical truth is that our dominance was relatively brief compared with countries like India and China, but also Persia, Babylon, Byzantium…

Kancho Stoychev is president of the Gallup International Association (GIA) of market and opinion research institutes. Since 1979, the GIA's pollsters have been measuring hope, happiness and economic expectations around the world.

Edited by: Rüdiger Rossig and Aingeal Flanagan