20.4.2012 | Von:
Vera Hanewinkel


Economic Reasons for Emigrating

Findings from qualitative studies by Aydın/Pusch (not yet concluded) and Hanewinkel (2010, unpublished) on the emigration of highly qualified people of Turkish origin do not confirm the TASD study’s statement according to which unfavorable occupational prospects in Germany constitute a critical factor behind the interviewees’ decision to emigrate. Rather, the majority of the interviewees were well integrated into the German labor market before their emigration to Turkey. Nonetheless, professional as well as economic (career) considerations did play an important role in the decision to emigrate. This is especially emphasized by Aydın/Pusch. Among the economic reasons for emigrating are aspects such as the improved prospects for promotion in the target country, a more attractive job, or an improvement in the person’s financial situation. Theoretically, these reasons for emigrating are taken up above all in the neo-classical push-pull models of migration. The focus of this approach is on a profit-maximizing individual (homo oeconomicus) who, making use of rational points of view and weighing the economic pros and cons of two countries, decides in favor of emigration, provided that this promises an improvement in the individual’s own financial situation. These models have been criticized in that they fail to take into account individual (emotional) motives for emigrating as well the impact of social networks (family, relatives, friends and acquaintances, etc.) on the decision to emigrate.

In the case of highly qualified individuals of Turkish origin, it can be seen that geographic mobility not infrequently is aimed at professional and social advancement. [11] The increasing presence of German companies in Turkey enables emigration through job placement in the in-house labor market. Academics of Turkish descent are wanted for key positions in the Turkish branches of these firms because of their socialization in Turkish and German society as well as because of their knowledge of both languages.

The continued high level of economic growth in Turkey in recent years also appears attractive. Following an economic downturn during the economic crisis of 2008–2009, the country quickly recovered. In 2010 already, the Turkish economy again experienced significant growth amounting to 8.9 percent. The upward trend continued. In the first six months of 2011, the Turkish economy with an average increase of 10.2 percent achieved the highest rate of growth worldwide [12], resulting in Turkey being called a "new China." [13] By contrast, the German economy showed substantially less dynamics. In 2011 it recorded growth amounting to a relatively low 2.6 percent. [14]

Western Turkey in particular is the big winner in the country’s economic development. In this way, a substantial structural divide has developed between the economically booming western part of Turkey and the agricultural east of Turkey. The search for improved living and working conditions draws large segments of the rural population into the cities. For years now, Istanbul in particular has been one of the principal regions of destination for these rural-urban migrations.

Western Turkey is also the main destination of highly qualified people of Turkish origin emigrating from Germany. The majority end up in cities such as Izmir or Istanbul, which are considered modern, cosmopolitan, and progressive and promise Western lifestyles and the prospect of a European standard of living. Female emigrants in particular prefer these destinations. [15] Highly qualified women of Turkish descent, as Hanewinkel (2010) has found out, also hope, by relocating the center of their lives to Turkey, to obtain better opportunities for advancement, since more female staff can be found in management positions in Turkey than in Germany.
  • "So I was absolutely sure that with the qualifications I have I would go further in Turkey than in Germany. Here there are more women at the top than in Germany. I don’t know if everyone knows this but it is really a very important reason for me...something one simply has to take into account." [16]
This judgment confirms the findings of a study from 2010 done by the international business consulting firm Hay Group. According to this, in Germany there are fewer women represented both in lower (percentage of women: approx. 20 percent) and in top management positions (percentage of women: approx. 7 percent) than in Turkey (lower management positions: approx. 30 percent; top management positions: approx. 12 percent). [17] The opportunities for women are especially good in the Turkish banking sector: at the middle management level, 75 percent of the positions are held by women. [18] These figures stand in marked contrast to the general rate of employment among women in Turkey, which at a mere 24 percent in the OECD comparison (approx. 58 percent) is extremely low. [19]

Qualifications acquired in Germany are given due recognition in Turkey. Highly qualified interviewees of Turkish origin in Istanbul indicated that a degree obtained at a German university is highly regarded in Turkey. In the same way, they profited from their knowledge of foreign languages acquired there and from their work experiences in a German or international firm. [20]

Whereas Sievers et al., Aydın/Pusch as well as the TASD study for their part stress the importance of economic reasons in the decision to emigrate, the findings of Hanewinkel (2010) concerning female emigrants of Turkish origin point to the fact that these reasons play a somewhat subordinate role in the decision to emigrate. Her interviewees indicated that they had come to Turkey primarily for emotional reasons (see below). The desire to try out for once what it feels like to live in Turkey becomes an essential part of one’s own ideas of self-actualization:
  • "Turkey was ALWAYS in the background, in other words, that at some point I want to return, or just want to try out if it works. In other words, not because I absolutely want to return to Turkey but rather because I asked myself whether I would feel comfortable in Istanbul. [...] But like I said, for many years I always had it at the back of my mind, that is, like a kind of back door which I always held open for myself." [21]
This wish can only be realized and translated into action, however, under the condition that one is occupationally integrated into the Turkish labor market. Internships during one’s studies – often completed in the Turkish branch of a German firm – introduce the individual to the Turkish labor market. The field of study chosen is in the case of some interviewees directly aimed at the (presumed) needs of the Turkish economy. [22]

Thus, while the reason for emigrating may be an emotional one, the translation of the migration project into action often takes an economic form. At the same time, it should be noted that decisions to emigrate are usually not taken for a single reason alone but rather that different motives accumulate, which contributes to making the study of migration decisions complex.

Although financial factors may play an entirely subordinate role before emigration and do not necessarily tip the scales in favor of the decision to emigrate, they take on increasing significance after emigration according to Hanewinkel’s findings, since the interviewees do not wish to forego the living standard they are accustomed to in Germany. In the short term and directly related to the change in country of residence, financial losses are indeed accepted. In the long term, however, all interviewees aspire to a living standard similar to or higher than that they had in Germany. This can only succeed when the emigrants successfully position themselves in the Turkish labor market and find employment appropriate to the qualifications they acquired in Germany, with corresponding levels of compensation. Especially in cities such as Istanbul in which, according to surveys, currently the cost of living in part exceeds that in big German cities [23], the consequence is that the accumulation of financial resources also has a decisive impact on the length of stay in Turkey. The findings of Hanewinkel (2010) suggest that a return to Germany or the move to another country then becomes likely when definite long-lasting losses in the living standard emerge. On the whole then, emigration to Turkey can be interpreted as an open-ended process.


Cf. Pusch/Aydın (2011), Hanewinkel (2010).
http://www.auswaertiges-amt.de/DE/Aussenpolitik/Laender/Laenderinfos/Tuerkei/Wirtschaft_node.html (accessed: 12-28-2011).
http://www.focus.de/finanzen/news/konjunktur/wirtschaftswachstum-tuerkei-ist-das-neue-china_aid_664402.html (accessed: 12-28-2011).
http://www.focus.de/finanzen/finanz-news/deutschland-wirtschaftswachstum-geht-weiter-0-5-prozent-im-letzten-quartal_aid_684474.html (accessed: 12-28-2011).
Sezer/Dağlar (2009, p. 21).
Interview extract, Hanewinkel (2010).
http://www.presseportal.de/pm/66526/1580155/hay_group (accessed: 12-28-2011).
http://www.euractiv.de/druck-version/artikel/bankensektor-mit-topchancen-fr-trkinnen-003806 (accessed: 02-15-2012).
Böhm et al. (2011, p. 1) and http://www.auswaertiges-amt.de/DE/Aussenpolitik/Laender/Laenderinfos/Tuerkei/Wirtschaft_node.html (accessed: 12-28-2011).
Hanewinkel (2010).
Interview extract, Hanewinkel (2010).
Hanewinkel (2010).
Cost of Living Survey 2011 by the Mercer consulting agency: http://www.mercer.com/press-releases/1420615 (accessed: 1-4-2012): in a worldwide comparison of cities, Istanbul ranks 70th (in the previous year: 44th) in the list of the world’s most expensive cities. Frankfurt am Main managed to rank as the highest placed German city at 73rd and thus ranks behind the Bosporus metropolis.
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