Journal of Economic Perspectives: Vol. 25 No. 3 (Summer 2011)


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Eight Questions about Brain Drain

Article Citation

Gibson, John, and David McKenzie. 2011. "Eight Questions about Brain Drain." Journal of Economic Perspectives, 25(3): 107-28.

DOI: 10.1257/jep.25.3.107


The term "brain drain" dominates popular discourse on high-skilled migration, and for this reason, we use it in this article. However, as Harry Johnson noted, it is a loaded phrase implying serious loss. It is far from clear that such a loss actually occurs in practice; indeed, there is an increasing recognition of the possible benefits that skilled migration can offer both for migrants and for sending countries. This paper builds upon a recent wave of empirical research to answer eight key questions underlying much of the brain drain debate: 1) What is brain drain? 2) Why should economists care about it? 3) Is brain drain increasing? 4) Is there a positive relationship between skilled and unskilled migration? 5) What makes brain drain more likely? 6) Does brain gain exist? 7) Do high-skilled workers remit, invest, and share knowledge back home? 8) What do we know about the fiscal and production externalities of brain drain?

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Gibson, John (U Waikato)
McKenzie, David (World Bank and BREAD, Duke U)

JEL Classifications

F22: International Migration
J24: Human Capital; Skills; Occupational Choice; Labor Productivity
J61: Geographic Labor Mobility; Immigrant Workers


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