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Does Going Abroad Boost Your Income and Help Your Career?

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.

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

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.

International Experience in the Labor Market

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.

Income Gains from International Experience

The first thing I looked for was relative income gains. Above and beyond gender, age, and education, I wanted to know: do people people who went abroad earn 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.

Becoming an Entrepreneur from International Experience

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.

The Take-Away Message: International Experience Matters

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.

International experience significantly matters for East Europeans as they navigate the labour market of their home country.

This is a guest post by Irina Tomescu-Dubrow, Professor of Sociology at the Institute of Philosophy and Sociology, Polish Academy of Sciences, and Director of the Graduate School for Social Research. 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 is a Professor of Sociology at the Institute of Philosophy and Sociology, Polish Academy of Sciences and the Director of the Graduate School for Social Research (GSSR). She conducts research on inequality, attainment, and mobility in historical and cross-national perspectives, and is an expert in survey data harmonization, as co-PI of the National Science Foundation grant on Survey Data Recycling.

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