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Eight Questions about Brain Drain

Gibson, J. & McKenzie, D. Eight Questions about Brain Drain. The World Bank, Washington, 2011. Pages: 28.

In this World Bank Policy Research Working Paper, the definition, issues and, specifically, the misconceptions of brain drain are analysed. Specifically, the paper addresses these eight key questions:

  • What is brain drain?
  • Why should economists care about it?
  • Is brain drain increasing?
  • Is there a positive relationship between skilled and unskilled migration?
  • What makes brain drain more likely?
  • Does brain gain exist?
  • Do highly skilled workers remit, invest and share knowledge back home? and
  • What do we know about the fiscal and production externalities of brain drain?

The authors assert that while brain circulation is not new, there is scant evidence supporting widespread notions that brain drain is increasing and affecting the supply of key health occupations (e.g. medicine) in developing countries. Nonetheless, the authors are careful to stress that global brain drain occurs in the midst of widespread obstacles to labour mobility. And while the migration of low- and high-skilled workers is indeed not a new phenomenon, the authors emphasise that migration of the latter group is more recent and has had a greater impact on “constraints of movement lead[ing] to very large gaps between incomes that can be earned in different destinations – gaps which are orders of magnitude larger than one sees with internal movements”.
The World Bank