What is Brain Drain?

An artistic's interpretation of "brain drain".
An artistic's interpretation of "brain drain".

Brain drain is the informal terminology used to describe human capital flight, or the loss of highly skilled or educated individuals from a particular geographic region, organization, or industry. Generally, brain drain refers to emigration from geographic regions. It is considered a social and economic problem because it leaves an area with a low-skilled and undereducated workforce, although it does have some positive effects as well. This article takes a closer look at the causes, effects, and types of brain drain that occur around the world.

Causes Of Brain Drain

What causes a large population of talented and educated individuals to leave a particular country, region, or city? The answer depends on a variety of factors, depending on where the brain drain is occurring. Generally speaking, the factors that contribute to this phenomenon are primarily divided into two categories: push factors and pull factors.

One of the main reasons that highly skilled and educated people decide to leave their place of birth has to do with the less than desirable living conditions there. This section of the workforce tends to leave due to high unemployment rates, economic crisis, low average salary, political instability, human rights abuses, and lack of personal freedom. These factors are considered push factors because they effectively push people out of their homes, forcing them to look for better opportunities elsewhere.

Brain drain pull factors are essentially the opposite of push factors. These are the situations found in the regions that receive highly skilled immigrants. Pull factors include: higher wages, improved quality of life, growing economy, stable political environment, personal freedom, and prestigious educational opportunities. These factors work to attract immigrants, pulling them out of their homelands.

Effects Of Brain Drain

The effects of brain drain are twofold, resulting in negative and positive influences over the economic and social situations of both the sending and receiving countries or regions. Sending regions (which are usually considered developing or underdeveloped economies) suffer the majority of the negative effects of brain drain. This phenomenon affects the workforce, tax revenue, healthcare conditions, educational opportunities, and technological development capabilities within a particular country or region.

The negative effects of brain drain occur primarily in the region that is losing its highly skilled workforce. Some economists believe that this trend causes workforce shortages, although others oppose this theory.

When people leave their jobs in search of economic opportunities elsewhere, the tax revenue they once paid is lost. This loss in income can disrupt public budgeting and lead to a decline in the quality of public services.

One example of this is when highly educated and skilled healthcare workers search for opportunities elsewhere. This leads to a shortage of qualified health care workers in developing regions. Without a sufficient workforce, the foreign aid sent to these countries cannot be utilized to its full potential. These conditions work to decrease the quality of healthcare available to the remaining population. Additionally, university professors and academic experts may leave developing regions, which results in a lack of academic training. With out-of-date educational materials and information, the education of future generations suffers. Finally, experts in fields of technology and industry take with them their ideas for development, which significantly helps the already developed country and leaves developing countries further behind the technological divide.


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