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You better move on!

Boenig 777-200 EI-DBM da Alitalia Local: Ezeiza airport, Argentine Eurico Zimbres. CC BY-SA 2.5 de Wikimedia Commons

The expatriation of young Italians

Al Italia par Eurico Zimbres CC BY-SA 2.5 de Wikimedia CommonsClose to 5% of Italian masters graduates seek employment abroad. While the share may seem small, this exodus represents a significant outflow of highly skilled labor from Italy totaling 2,300 people annually.
In an article recently published in International Migration Review, “You Better Move On” Determinants and Labor Market Outcomes of Graduate Migration from Italy”, two sociologists from Sciences Po’s Observatory for Social Change – Carlo Barone and Ettore Recchi*, with their colleague Giulia Assirelli from the Catholic University of Sacred Heart in Milan – study the reasons for these departures and track the professional outcomes for these expatriates.

In a very tense national context of skill undervaluation and the fall in public employment, expatriation is an option for finding employment that corresponds to one’s educational level and aspirations. Compared to other countries, Italy offers one of the lowest salaries and prospects for highly qualified young people among OECD member. Gènes, 19 novembre 2012 par David Sanchini via Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0Taking advantage of integration measure that facilitate the free movement of Europeans, and pushed by successive crises that have hit Southern European countries hardest, new labor market entrants now consider their professional careers at a larger geographical scale.

Those who leave are mostly high-skilled youth from upper-class families in scientific or international disciplines who have a command of English and other European languages. The move truly benefits them in terms of  career prospects, which are better than in Italy. Their salary upon arrival is always higher than that of their counterparts who stay in Italy, with an average 36% premium in European countries, and 43% in other developed countries, taking into account purchasing power differences. Long-distance emigration is associated with better employment conditions. They also claim to be more satisfied with their professional environment and career prospects. However, their expectations are sometimes very high, leading to dissatisfaction with the gap between the obtained position and the one they hoped for given their skill level. Conversely, those who stay internalize the particular characteristics of the domestic labor market, which offers few high-skill positions, especially in R&D. They therefore resign themselves to lower expectations. Not all of them see the benefit they would gain from going abroad.

If the situation of graduates in the domestic market is so bad, and emigration provides a solution, why aren’t more people leaving? Two main reasons were identified: first, command of foreign languages – including English – is generally poor. Riunione Famiglia 29.06.13-115 by FotoMuris via Flickr CC BY-NC 2.0This barrier is a major obstacle to working in neighboring countries with opportunities, like France and Germany. Second, there is a significant psychological and sociological cost: young people leave a society traditionally based on long intergenerational cohabitation and renounce family assistance provided by the welfare state.

This brain drain reflects social inequality: only those who have a command of foreign languages, are degree holders, and can manage the social costs of moving can leave.

Carlo Barone, university professor and researcher at the Observatory for Social Change, focuses on educational policies, particularly inequalities and labor market entry.

Ettore Recchi, university professor and researcher at the Observatory for Social Change, studies different forms of mobility, social stratification, and European integration elites.


Giulia Assirelli, Carlo Barone, Ettore Recchi, “You Better Move On” Determinants and Labor Market Outcomes of Graduate Migration from Italy”, International Migration Review, April 5, 2018