What is it about?

Do scientists migrate more than the general population? Do scientists from high-income countries migrate more in comparison to low- and middle-income countries? Which countries have the highest rate of scientists leaving or arriving? These are the type of questions that we have tried to answer. Migration literature has long shown that increased economic development in low- and middle-income countries initially increases emigration rates. The relationship between economic development and emigration reaches a new equilibrium after some time and then the emigration rates start to decline for high-income countries. However, there is little research to understand whether this population-level pattern also applies to smaller groups in society.

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Why is it important?

The statistical analysis reveals a contrasting pattern for economic development and emigration of researchers, in comparison to the population-level patterns. We show that for scientists, the propensity to emigrate does not immediately increase with economic development. It decreases until a high-income turning point is reached and increases after that point. This implies that increasing economic development does not necessarily lead to an academic brain drain in low- and middle-income countries. Our findings contribute to and call for further research on the relationship between economic development and emigration for different groups in society, in order to shed light on the multi-layered nature of migration processes.


In this study, we focus on the relationship between economic development and the emigration of scientists. We leverage metadata of more than 36 million journal articles and reviews published in Scopus from 1996 to 2021. These data include the article title, name of the authors and affiliations of almost every article and review published in Scopus. Using this information and change in academic affiliation addresses, we track the emigration events for every single one of the roughly 17 million researchers throughout their academic careers and produce academic emigration statistics for a given country every year.

Aliakbar Akbaritabar
Max-Planck-Gesellschaft zur Forderung der Wissenschaften

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This page is a summary of: Global patterns of migration of scholars with economic development, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, January 2023, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2217937120.
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