To Move or Not to Move? The Psychology Behind Global Job Search

At a time when controversies over migration feature so prominently in political debates, it is important to understand the factors impacting an individual’s decision whether or not to consider – and eventually take up –  a job abroad.  

We surveyed more than ten thousand workers in eight countries (United States of America, United Kingdom, Australia, Japan, France, Germany, The Netherlands and Ireland) who started a new job in the last year and asked them whether that new job required them to move to a different country, or if not, whether they had considered the possibility of moving to a new country for work.

The results provided us with a unique glimpse into their motivations. We found that work-related factors such as attractive job offers were the most relevant triggers for workers who had recently moved to a new country to start a new job: For 38.7% of the respondents that was the prime motivating factor.

People who did not move but considered doing so were more likely to justify their choice in terms of family or personal reasons — almost one-third indicated this factor as the main reason holding them back. People who did not even consider moving similarly signaled a strong personal preference for living in their current location.

Although the majority of people who moved had considered just one specific location, a sizable number of respondents reported that they considered alternative locations as well, especially in Europe, where 33% did so.

Let’s take a closer look at the survey results to learn more about what prompts people to consider and take up job opportunities abroad — and what prevents them from doing so.

Why Do People Move?

The majority of people who moved to another country were looking for a job in that specific location prior to their move. Between 15% and 30% of respondents were also considering other possibilities while a further  5-7% were not considering a move at all but ended up making one anyway — perhaps following a partner or family member. 

People who moved to the US were least interested in moving to other locations: 80.2% of respondents said they were looking specifically to move to America before they arrived.

By contrast, European destinations had the largest proportion of people who considered other possibilities. This is probably linked to the differences that exist between the two groups of movers, the biggest being the ease of intra-EU movement for citizens of EU countries.

Thanks to the freedom they have to settle anywhere within the EU, these individuals are more likely to consider more than one destination at a time — much like Americans can when considering a move to a different state.   

In terms of motivation, however, workers on both sides of the Atlantic showed some consistent patterns: Among the top reasons behind a decision to move to either Europe or the US were personal reasons, an attractive job offer and long-term career prospects.

While these factors were consistently important in both continents, the way they ranked across the two regions was somewhat different. For example, people…

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