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.


In America, 20 Percent Reach “Affluence” at Least Once in Their Life

It depends on what you call affluence.  If you make 250,000 USD a year, this study considers you affluent:


WASHINGTON (AP) – Fully 20 percent of U.S. adults become rich for parts of their lives, wielding extensive influence over America’s economy and politics, according to new survey data.  These “new rich,” made up largely of older professionals, working married couples and more educated singles, are becoming politically influential, and economists say their capacity to spend is key to the U.S. economic recovery. But their rise is also a sign of the nation’s continuing economic polarization.

They extend well beyond the wealthiest 1 percent, a traditional group of super-rich millionaires and billionaires with long-held family assets. The new rich have household income of $250,000 or more at some point during their working lives, putting them – if sometimes temporarily – in the top 2 percent of earners.

The new survey data on the affluent are being published in an upcoming book, and an analysis by The AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research provided additional information on the views of the group.

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In Political Obamacare Fight, the Poor Are Casualties

The New York Times’ article:  Millions of Poor Are Left Uncovered by Health Law


A sweeping national effort to extend health coverage to millions of Americans will leave out two-thirds of the poor blacks and single mothers and more than half of the low-wage workers who do not have insurance, the very kinds of people that the program was intended to help, according to an analysis of census data by The New York Times.

Because they live in states largely controlled by Republicans that have declined to participate in a vast expansion of Medicaid, the medical insurance program for the poor, they are among the eight million Americans who are impoverished, uninsured and ineligible for help. The federal government will pay for the expansion through 2016 and no less than 90 percent of costs in later years.

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Pew Research on the 2012 U.S. Elections

For excellent analysis of all the most critical issues to the 2012 U.S. elections in America, see “Campaign 2012” of the Pew Research Center.


  • Are Americans better off today?  Well, they’re not worse off.  And partisanship has much to do with their view:  “Republicans consistently rate their personal finances more positively than do Democrats or independents, largely reflecting Republicans’ higher average income levels. But the gap has narrowed since the start of the recession in December 2007, as Republicans have come to view their financial situations less positively.”
  • In a word:  Obama  has gone from “inexperienced” and “change” in 2008 to “good/good man” and “trying/tried/tries” in 2012.  Romney?  “honest,” “businessman,” “rich.”
  • Tax hikes on those making $250,000 a year?  44% say it would help economy, 22% say hurt, and 24% say no difference.

There’s much more on the website, including the latest voter polls.

How to Tell If You are Middle Class

In an exercise in class consciousness, U.S. News and World Report tells you whether you are middle class or not

Assessing Your Middle-Class Status

Despite the so-called recovery, many families continue to struggle, with income and other living standards slipping below thresholds that typically represent middle-class quality of life. We’ve assembled a variety of metrics to help determine whether you’re getting ahead, holding steady, or slipping further than most.

Read more below:

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Definitions of Social Class and What to Do with the Non-Economically Active

Sociology argues that social group membership influences just about everything people think and do.  Membership in social groups is usually akin to location in social structure.  Membership in economic groups is of particular importance, as it is said to influence a wide range of social outcomes.  Defining social groups—and the qualifications for membership – is a major preoccupation among sociologists.  In everyday use, and even among sociologists, the word “class” is used non-sociologically, meaning “a kind of category:”  “A set, collection, group or configuration containing members regarded as having certain attributes or traits in common: a kind of category” – American Heritage Dictionary 4th ed. (2000).  Similarly, the term “status” is used in many ways, including a “position relative to that of others,” “a state of affairs” (also Amer. Heritage Dictionary). [see Lecture Notes on social class on this point]

Most sociological definitions of social class say that class is social grouping that has something to do with/is related to economic resources/assets (see esp. Marx and Weber).  With regard to class and social stratification, the question is whether the divisions and boundaries in a scale of economic assets comprises a distinct class.  We must seperate social class from social stratification.  Economic divisions does not constitute class divisions.  Let’s se how this works by discussing what is meant by “economic.”  If it is simply income or occupation, or market capacity, then no, class is not economic division, though class certainly has a relationship to these assets.  Class is therefore more than strata.  It is relationships between/with other classes that makes class a real entity.

Classes in the Weberian sense are relational in that “resources shape strategies for acquiring income.”  In class societies, these strategies are inherently conflictual.  Classes share material interests – how people realize their interests depends on their wealth and market capacities.  However, each class has a conflict of interest with other classes because each class seeks to keep what they have and add more to what they have.  Because resources/assets are finite and are distributed unequally within capitalist society each class is in a struggle with other classes to realize their material interests.  This is referred to as “distributional conflict.”  It is the relational aspect of class that puts the “social” in “social class.”

Where does this conflict take place?  In the workplace between managers and office workers; between professional associations; between political organizations/political parties; in the neighborhood, keeping lower class housing away from upper class (high rents and credit checks, though sub prime lending offered the illusion of mobility, these houses are still not within upper class neighborhoods). 

What form does this conflict take?  Social closure (Parkin, Weber), exclusion, pay differentials legitimized within bureaucracies, access to professional organizations, educational institutions, government policy of economic redistribution policy. 

What is the consequence of this conflict? Rigidifying the stratification structure, differential life chances.  Class conflict is struggle over wages, working conditions, social welfare, and living conditions, and freedom from authority.

If class is primarily one’s relationship to the economic sphere and spheres of production, what to do with the non-economically active?  A paper from Marshall et al (1996) empirically demonstrates that these non-economically active groups do not constitute a social class:

Social Class and Underclass in Britain and the USA
Author(s): Gordon Marshall, Stephen Roberts and Carole Burgoyne
Source: The British Journal of Sociology, Vol. 47, No. 1 (Mar., 1996), pp. 22-44


It is commonly argued that the research programme of class analysis is undermined by its apparent neglect of large numbers of economically-inactive adults who do not form part of the analysis, but are affected by class processes, and form distinctive elements within any class structure. This paper disputes the claim that welfare dependents, the retired, and domestic housekeepers show distinctive patterns of socio-political class formation. Nor are the class-related attributes of the supposed underclass so distinct that they require separate treatment in a class analysis. Evidence which supports the orthodox strategy of sampling economically-active men and women is taken from national sample surveys of adults in Britain and the USA.

For class measurement, see here.