Does Going Abroad Boost Your Income and Help Your Career? The Value of International Experience

by Irina Tomescu-Dubrow, Associate Professor, Institute of Philosophy and Sociology, Polish Academy of Sciences

Does going abroad, even for a little while, give you an edge in the job market?

As a small world gets smaller, employers across the US and Europe are looking for that “international experience” element in the resumes of job applicants. Corporations are sending their employees outside headquarters to do business in established and emerging economies. Universities push for international research and training collaborations, and academia and the private sector increasingly seek out personnel who can perform well in multi-national and multi-cultural environments.

Working or living abroad gives people skills and knowledge that businesses can use as they look for new markets and opportunities across the world. International experience seems like a good investment, but to date outside of the USA, empirical studies on its relationship to income and upward mobility are few.

In my article, “International Experience and Labour Market Success: Analysing Panel Data from Poland,” I used the longest running panel survey in Poland (POLPAN 1988 – 2013) to discover the impact of having spent at least two months in a foreign country (my definition of “international experience”) on two major life outcomes.

The first thing I looked for was relative income gains. Above and beyond gender, age, and education, I wanted to know whether people who went abroad earned more than those who did not. The answer is a strong yes: People who went abroad, even for as little as two months, have a higher income than those who did not go abroad, other things equal.

Next, I investigated the odds of becoming an employer or entrepreneur above and beyond the effects of age, gender, and education. Again, the answer is a strong yes: Having international experience boosts the odds of becoming an employer or entrepreneur.

As with a recent study in the US by economist Susan Pozo, I find that those with international experience have higher income than those without this experience. I also find that international experience leads to upward mobility, in the form of becoming an entrepreneur.

Since 1989, millions of East Europeans have traveled abroad seeking new skills, insights, and economic opportunities. Many of them come back. While the tales of making one’s fortune abroad fill popular culture and the media, there are surprisingly few empirical studies on whether and how being in another country impacts one’s income and career. Part of the reason is that there too few long-term panel datasets that document career paths and include episodes of being abroad. The case of Poland, via its unique panel data called POLPAN, suggests that international experience significantly matters for East Europeans as they navigate the labour market of their home country.

This article is based on the paper, International Experience and Labour Market Success: Analysing Panel Data from Poland, in the Polish Sociological Review.

Irina Tomescu-Dubrow

 

Irina Tomescu-Dubrow is an Associate Professor at the Institute of Philosophy and Sociology, Polish Academy of Sciences and conducts research on inequality, attainment, and mobility in historical and cross-national perspectives.

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