In Business, what is Brain Drain?

Felicia Dye
Felicia Dye
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Businessman giving a thumbs-up

Brain drain refers to the emigration of talented and skilled individuals. This situation is also commonly referred to as human capital flight. Capital is assets that can be used to support or acquire other assets. In many countries, significant portions of human capital are lost due to attraction to foreign destinations. This results in serious losses for the places that these workers leave behind.

Poor and underdeveloped countries are often faced with brain drain dilemmas. In some cases, youth with high scholastic scores or those who show outstanding aptitude and interest in high demand areas are recruited to study abroad. Upon concluding their studies, these individuals are enticed to stay in the countries where they were educated. Sometimes, individuals gain valuable skills and training in their home countries, but are then lured away.

There are several factors that contribute to this situation. For example, many young professionals choose to work in foreign destinations because the income is substantially higher. In many poor countries, one person often carries the responsibility of supporting many family members. This motivates those with an opportunity of higher earnings to take it.

The diversity of careers and the possibility of advancement also motivates the emigration of talented individuals. In many countries, there are limited possibilities with regards to job options, even when a person has substantial amounts of higher education. Those who are looking for job diversity or growth potential often immigrate to places where there are possibilities to find these opportunities.

Standards of living are also a driving factor in the brain drain dilemma. Poorer countries are commonly plagued with discouraging problems like nepotism and corruption. Basic necessities, such as water and electricity, may be scarce, sporadic, or widely unavailable. As a result, many people take advantage of the opportunity to live places where conditions are better.

Brain drain often results in numerous adverse effects for the societies that lose their educated and skilled citizens. Essential services often become inadequate to serve the remaining population. In many countries, this is especially true in fields such as medicine and engineering. Available positions are sometimes left vacant or filled with people who are unqualified.

Development is commonly thwarted by brain drain. This is because the skills and innovation that are needed to make underdeveloped countries prosper are often unavailable. Those countries commonly have limited capability to attract qualified foreign labor and, therefore, remain in stagnant or deteriorating conditions.

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Discussion Comments


It's easy to understand why a lot of young professionals, especially in the healthcare and education sectors, would choose to move to more developed countries. If I were from a second or third world country and I had the opportunity to work in the United States or Germany or Singapore, I'd definitely consider it. I could earn more money and work under much better conditions. I could still send that money back to my homeland, and I could join a relief organization if I wanted to help directly.

However, I also believe there is nobility in taking the skills I learned overseas and setting up shop in a homeland that needed me. Maybe I wouldn't get rich, and maybe I wouldn't be working in a Mayo clinic, but I'd be doing something positive for an area that could use some positivity.


I think many of today's Silicon Valley companies are going to experience serious "brain drain" in the next decade or so. The idea of company loyalty has been eroding for years, and very few employees in this generation want to be working for GOOGLE or Facebook at age 35. They're not going to move to another company with better benefits or a better view of the ocean, however. They're going to form their own start-up companies and leave their regular jobs behind as soon as they become profitable.

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