Germany’s Brain Drain

The New York Times hits a favorite theme in foreign coverage of Germany: the nation’s calcified bureacracy is driving all the clever, ambitious Germans to Britain and the U.S.:

Benedikt Thoma recalls the moment he began to think seriously about leaving Germany. It was in 2004, at a New Year’s Day reception in nearby Frankfurt, and the guest speaker, a prominent politician, was lamenting the fact that every year thousands of educated Germans turn their backs on their homeland.

“That struck me like a bolt of lightning,” said Mr. Thoma, 44, an engineer then running his family’s elevator company. “I asked myself, ‘Why should I stay here when the future is brighter someplace else?’ ” In December, as his work with the company became an intolerable grind because of labor disputes, Mr. Thoma quit and made plans to move to Canada. In its wide-open spaces he hopes to find the future that he says is dwindling at home.

As soon as he lands a job, Mr. Thoma, his wife, Petra, and their two teenage sons will join the ranks of Germany’s emigrants…

Caveats aside, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence that Germany has become less attractive for people in fields like medicine, academic research and engineering. Those who leave cite chronic unemployment, a rigid labor market, stifling bureaucracy, high taxes and the plodding economy — which, though better recently, still lags behind that of the United States.

As Dr. Friedrich Boettner, a German orthopedic surgeon at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York, puts it: “I make more money. I’ve got more opportunity. New York was the chance of my lifetime.”

German salaries, he said, are not competitive with those in the United States or Britain, and the hierarchical structure of some professions in Germany discourages ambitious young people from staying. The medical field, in which advancement is controlled by powerful chief doctors, has been hit particularly hard, with 2,300 doctors leaving in 2005 alone….

In Mr. Thoma’s view, the root of the problem is deeper. Germany, he said, has a “blockage” in its society.

“Germans are so complacent,” he said, sitting at the dining table in his neat-as-a-pin home here. “They don’t want to change anything. Everything is discussed endlessly without ever reaching a solution.”

[Dr. Boettner] dreaded the formality of the medical system, rooted in a society where people still address their superiors with formal titles like “Herr Professor Doktor.”

4 thoughts on “Germany’s Brain Drain

  1. When looking at the alarming figures, one should bear in mind that the number of people that left Germany in 2005 (145,000) does not appear so shockingly high when bearing in mind that at the same time, 380,000 people have left the UK. (http://www.statistics.gov.uk/cci/nugget.asp?id=260) What is really alarming, though, is that the net migration, i.e. the difference between in-migration and out-migration, continues to be negative in Germany.

    If you look at the German labour market, the biggest problem is not the lack of opportunities to get rich for the skilled, but the lack of opportunities to get a job for the unskilled. More than 20 percent of unqualified Germans between the ages of 25 and 64 are jobless, against only 6.6 percent in the UK and 12.1 percent in France (which has a higher overall unemployment rate).

  2. “there is plenty of anecdotal evidence that Germany has become less attractive for people in fields like medicine, academic research and engineering”

    Gee, that´s serious then. I can notice that by the offers from DAAD: they are very engaged on attracting foreigners to research in teutonian universities,since Germany isn´t exactly the first option to futher academic studies.Guess where germans and other foreigners are willing to make a carrer as a Professor/Scientist?

  3. I have anecdotal ‘evidence’ of this trend in the form of a dentist from Bremen whom I met in Shrewsbury, UK last year. He commutes to the Shrewsbury area for 1.5 days each week, and seemed pretty bitter and disillusioned with Germany when I shared a meal with him. I think he is looking to emigrate to the US if he can.

    I’m not certain this represents any kind of general trend however.

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    —–
    PING:
    TITLE: How Good or Bad is the US Media Coverage of Germany?
    URL: http://atlanticreview.org/archives/575-How-Good-or-Bad-is-the-US-Media-Coverage-of-Germany.html
    IP: 80.67.17.167
    BLOG NAME: Atlantic Review
    DATE: 02/13/2007 10:25:01 PM
    Ever since reading the New York Times, I’ve always wondered how simple Germany is portrayed. complains Gerd at Anglofritz: When you look at the recent stories in both CNN and the NYT about Germany this past week, youll find the followi
    —–
    PING:
    TITLE: How Good or Bad is the US Media Coverage of Germany?
    URL: http://atlanticreview.org/archives/575-How-Good-or-Bad-is-the-US-Media-Coverage-of-Germany.html
    IP: 80.67.17.167
    BLOG NAME: Atlantic Review
    DATE: 02/13/2007 10:04:14 PM
    Ever since reading the New York Times, I’ve always wondered how simple Germany is portrayed. complains Gerd at Anglofritz: When you look at the recent stories in both CNN and the NYT about Germany this past week, youll find the followi

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