Wed Aug 9th, 2006 at 11:14:25 AM EST
Look, I'd better say this from the start : I'm not out to start another impassioned (and often anecdotal) wrangle over whether or not young French jobseekers flock to London in droves, why they do that, or whether it has any deep significance. I take it that France is the largest adjacent (one short Eurostar hop) labour pool to an attractive capital and financial centre with a tight labour market, and that it would be surprising not to see this flow. I also do not dispute for a second that France has serious employment problems.
No, what I'm interested in -- as usual -- is the way this phenomenon has been picked up by the pundits and used as yet further proof of the hopelessness of resisting globalisation-and-free-market blah blah by attempting to keep alive a sclerotic European blah blah. We heard a lot of noise of this kind during the anti-CPE movement in France last spring, from The Economist, predictably enough, but also from The Guardian:
As the Guardian revealed on Saturday, the French model has so excluded many young French people that they have come across the channel in huge numbers in recent years looking for work in an economy that has created 2.5 million jobs over the past decade.
Ashley Seager, The French go marching into the past
Ashley Seager will no doubt be in a hurry now to pile it on in similar terms, but in the opposite direction, having noticed this FT article on Tuesday:
Our borders are being overwhelmed by migration on an unprecedented scale. Many of these migrants are failing to integrate with their host communities. Some do not even bother learning the local language. Local services are struggling to cope with the influx. Worse still, the UK government seems to know little about the scale or impact of this migration.
While these may be well-rehearsed descriptions of immigration into the UK, they may better describe what happens when Britons move abroad. Emigration from the UK is rocketing but few people seem to be considering the demographic or economic implications.
Britons have a long tradition of moving around the world. Between 1966 and 1996 the UK actually lost more people through emigration than it gained through immigration. More recently, lured by a better quality of life, encouraged by popular television shows about "a place in the sun" and sometimes actively recruited by other countries, record numbers of British nationals -- about 200,000 in 2004 -- are leaving the UK on a permanent or long-term basis each year. The result, according to the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office, is that there are currently 4.5m British passport holders living overseas. In other words, there are more UK nationals living overseas than there are foreign nationals living in the UK. In global terms, the size of the UK's diaspora is thought to be the second largest of any country in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development -- behind Mexico.
UK must look at that other group of migrants, by Dhananjayan Sriskandarajah
So this is a story of Brits retiring to Spain, France, Italy? Only partly. Dhananjayan Sriskandarajah (assistant director of IPPR, the Labour-leaning thunk tonk), speaks of an ICM opinion poll commissioned by the BBC. (See More Britons consider move abroad).
The data set of the ICM poll can be found here (pdf!). Let's take a look at some of it (disclaimer: these are necessarily cherry-pickings from a 62-page set of complex tables, and the additions in colours are mine):
Here's the big news. The number of those saying they plan to emigrate soon is highest among the young, with 25% of 18-24 year-olds choosing this option. (The percentages go down from there on: 8% of 55-64 year-olds, for example).
So is this a regional phenomenon? Youngsters from South-East England, where the labour market's hot, will want to stay, while others from less job-rich parts (former industrial regions, for example), will be itching to leave?
Hmm. And hmm again. Doesn't seem to be quite the picture, does it? The South-East scores quite well on the "will emigrate soon" line. And look at the arrows representing the trend on the two other questions. "Might emigrate" scores highest in the prosperous South-East, and goes down gradually through the Midlands to the North and the Celtic Fringe.
What about educational level? It's possible young people with a low level of skills may think they have a better chance elsewhere.
Erm, no, it's the opposite. The higher the qualifications, the higher the percentage of those who may think of emigrating or hope to emigrate soon.
So why do they say they want to leave the country (question asked of all those who said they would consider emigration) ?
The youngest demographic seems to set sunny weather above "quality of life", while the 25-34s perhaps dream less of the beach. Conflating those two first lines, we have a very solid third of respondents who said they were looking for -- one way or another -- a better quality of life. But note that the "young" group (18-24 + 25-34) place considerably more importance than the total sample in :
- UK cost of living too high
- new job
- new experience
Where do they want to go? (Top seven)
No surprise, the English-language countries are way ahead, with a strong lead for Australia. But Spain, France, and Italy seem reasonably attractive to the young demographic -- not just the old fogeys on their way to genteel retirement. In fact, in the overall sample (my reckoning, any mistakes mine), the 528 respondents who were asked to choose countries (multiple choice possible), gave a score of:
- 594 to the English-speaking countries (including Ireland, 15 hits)
- 444 to the EU minus Ireland
What kind of conclusions can we draw? First, obviously, it's tempting to point out that the marketista pundits don't appear to have grounds for, precisely, drawing overblown conclusions about entire socio-economic "models" based on emigration, and youth emigration in particular. And it's true they're keeping quiet about this, while they were 99 decibels about French youth "voting with their feet" just a few months ago.
More broadly, is it so surprising to find that young people today (all the more that they have high qualifications as a passport) see the world as their oyster? Wouldn't we expect to see more people moving from country to country in search of more congenial conditions and useful experience?
So is there any big bad propaganda to be got out of this? I'll leave you to judge...
(ICM poll for BBC, sample 1002, 30 July 2006. Where percentages do not add up to 100, mutiple answers were possible).