Next position Eastern Europe?

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The Polish capital of Warsaw now has a skyline comparable to cities like Frankfu
The Polish capital of Warsaw now has a skyline comparable to cities like Frankfurt, London or Rotterdam. Even if Warsaw and other Eastern European metropolises are currently less attractive for skilled workers than Western and Northern European cities, researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research see some potential there in the future. Image: Pixabay

Researchers used Linkedin data to track where professionals want to move within the EU

For professionals looking for a new job, Eastern European countries have not been very attractive so far. That’s the finding of a study by researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research in Rostock, Germany, together with a Dutch colleague. As their analysis of data from the Linkedin career network revealed, comparatively few professionals from northern, southern and western European countries want to move east. But the attractiveness of Eastern Europe could change in the coming years.

As a driver of economic, demographic, social and political developments, the immigration of skilled workers is of great importance to policymakers. But studies on this have often suffered from incomplete statistics, outdated data and surveys with limited scope. A team of researchers from Rostock and the Netherlands has now taken a new approach with their study, which was published in the Proceedings of the International AAAI Conference on Web and Social Media. The researchers used Linkedin’s Recruiter tool. They used it to search for users in the 27 countries of the European Union and in Great Britain who had indicated in their profiles that they would also move to another country for a new job. "Linkedin gave us the opportunity to tap into a previously untapped data source to take a comprehensive look at professionals’ interest in migration," says Emilio Zagheni, co-author of the study and director at the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research. The data were collected between October 2020 and September 2021, before the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

"When people are surveyed, their intentions to move are often vague and a move may never happen," Zagheni explains. "A key difference in our study is that we looked at behavior on LinkedIn. People who express interest in changing jobs are usually already at an advanced stage of planning. When the opportunity arises, they may be really open to a move." The data could thus also provide clues to future migration movements within Europe.

Northern and Western Europe most attractive

In absolute terms, Northern and Western Europe are the most attractive for LinkedIn users, the researchers found. Of the professionals who were willing to relocate for a new job, about 60 percent aspired to countries such as Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany or Sweden. About 40 percent were interested in jobs in Italy, Spain and other southern European countries, while only 30 percent showed interest in a job in Eastern Europe.

Many Linkedin users who were considering a move to an Eastern European country also already lived in or near the region. "People from Austria or Greece were more likely to show interest in moving to Bulgaria, or from countries such as Romania and the Czech Republic. It is much more likely that people from countries that are geographically closer will want to move to Eastern Europe," says Zagheni.

The exception was countries further away, where larger groups of Eastern European professionals live. "We see from the data that professionals from Germany and the UK are very open to moving to Poland. We assume that this is partly indicative of remigration." In other words, Polish professionals would like to return to their home country.

But why is there so little interest in moving east? With visas and work permits not a factor in the European Union, Zagheni suspects that language barriers and weaker economies play an important role. "From Linkedin’s data, the most likely conclusion is that employment opportunities are the deciding factor."

Future potential in Eastern Europe

A lack of suitable jobs in a region can sometimes even mask an otherwise existing willingness to move there. The researchers found this to be the case in southern Europe: although the overall figures showed that the majority of Linkedin users willing to migrate wanted to move to the north or west - regions of the EU where jobs are plentiful. But when the researchers took into account factors such as differences in population density and Internet and LinkedIn penetration, they realized that southern Europe is also a highly desirable destination.

"Unexpectedly, there was a higher proportion of people wanting to move south in northern and western Europe than we would have expected based on differences in demographic factors, Internet use and similar variables. We interpret this observation as a sign of a mismatch between the lack of opportunities in southern Europe and the number of people potentially wanting to move south," Zagheni says.

The same could soon be the case in Eastern Europe, says the scientist. Countries like Romania and Poland have great untapped potential. Structurally, factors may already be in place that will make more people want to move there. These include the desire to return home for a large group of highly qualified emigrants. Then it’s just a matter of offering people the right incentives and opportunities."

Moreover, Eastern Europe already seems attractive to job seekers from other parts of the world, as Zagheni points out. After the Russian invasion of Ukraine, many people from there moved to Poland or the Czech Republic. In Eastern European countries, politicians are often worried about a shrinking population. But this is not necessarily justified. Because in other regions, especially outside Europe, there may be people who find it particularly attractive to move there."

Ute Eberle

Proceedings of the International AAAI Conference on Web and Social Media, 16(1), 759’769.