The Elite Brain Drain*


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     For many helpful suggestions, we thank three referees and Robin Ball, Sandra Chapman, Joseph Falkinger, Amanda Goodall, Simon Hands, Steve Machin, Robert May, Robert MacKay, David Spiegelhalter, Richard Tol, Radu Vranceanu, Fabian Waldinger and co-authors on the unpublished paper by Warwick University (2007), especially Showkat Ali and Hilda Ralsmark, for allowing us to draw upon some of the results described there. We are extremely grateful to all the physicists who replied to our emails. Oswald's work was supported by an ESRC research professorship.


We collect data on the movement and productivity of elite scientists. Their mobility is remarkable: nearly half of the world's most-cited physicists work outside their country of birth. We show they migrate systematically towards nations with large R & D spending. Our study cannot adjudicate on whether migration improves scientists’ productivity, but we find that movers and stayers have identical h-index citations scores. Immigrants in the UK and US now win Nobel Prizes proportionately less often than earlier. US residents’ h-indexes are relatively high. We describe a framework where a key role is played by low mobility costs in the modern world.