Return migration of German-affiliated researchers: analyzing departure and return by gender, cohort, and discipline using Scopus bibliometric data 1996–2020

Zhao, X., Aref, S., Zagheni, E., Stecklov, G.
Scientometrics, 127:12, 7707–7729 (2022)
Open Access


The international migration of researchers is an important dimension of scientific mobility, and has been the subject of considerable policy debate. However, tracking the migration life courses of researchers is challenging due to data limitations. In this study, we use Scopus bibliometric data on eight million publications from 1.1 million researchers who have published at least once with an affiliation address from Germany in 1996–2020. We construct the partial life histories of published researchers in this period and explore both their out-migration and the subsequent return of a subset of this group: the returnees. Our analyses shed light on the career stages and gender disparities between researchers who remain in Germany, those who emigrate, and those who eventually return. We find that the return migration streams are even more gender imbalanced, which points to the need for additional efforts to encourage female researchers to come back to Germany. We document a slightly declining trend in return migration among more recent cohorts of researchers who left Germany, which, for most disciplines, was associated with a decrease in the German collaborative ties of these researchers. Moreover, we find that the gender disparities for the most gender imbalanced disciplines are unlikely to be mitigated by return migration given the gender compositions of the cohorts of researchers who have left Germany and of those who have returned. This analysis uncovers new dimensions of migration among scholars by investigating the return migration of published researchers, which is critical for the development of science policy.

Schlagwörter: Deutschland, computational demography, gender, research and development, return migration
Das Max-Planck-Institut für demografische Forschung (MPIDR) in Rostock ist eines der international führenden Zentren für Bevölkerungswissenschaft. Es gehört zur Max-Planck-Gesellschaft, einer der weltweit renommiertesten Forschungsgemeinschaften.