We talked with two young researchers who shared insights from their latest scientific paper: “The Land of Milk and Honey? Young Croatians’ Identities and Perceptions as Drivers of Migration Desire”

Migration, a topic that frequently stirs considerable debate within Croatian research circles, takes on a new dimension in the hands of two research assistantsMarita Grubišić-Čabo, and Filip Fila, from the Institute for Social Research in Zagreb. With a robust foundation in sociology, their work navigates the realms of European studies, migrations, and the sociology of science and technology.

According to the National Bureau of Statistics, from 2013 to 2022, Croatia witnessed the migration of 349,979 of its citizens. Yet, what sets Grubišić-Čabo and Fila apart is their distinctive approach to this phenomenon. In their research, The Land of Milk and Honey? Young Croatians’ Identities and Perceptions as Drivers of Migration Desire, they eschew the traditional macro narratives that often frame migration within the contours of dissatisfaction, corruption, and the quest for a better life. Instead, their research delves into the micro factors of migration. This fresh perspective promises to shed new light on the complex field of motivations and experiences underpinning individuals’ migration journeys.


MARITA GRUBIŠIĆ-ČABO, Institute for Social Research in Zagreb, Croatia

FILIP FILA, Institute for Social Research in Zagreb, Croatia

“This paper tries to give a different perspective on exploring two facets of migration desire that have so far not been researched as much – perceptions and identities. A common approach to migration, even outside academic discussions, is the push-pull lens. The most recognized factors why people may migrate are often linked to the economic and political conditions of both their own country and the country they wish to migrate to. This approach paints a rather utilitarian picture of the whole process. What we tried to see was the less rational side of things – not how, for instance, Germany’s GDP may influence people to move there, but rather how their perceptions of their own country as well as the perceived ‘land of milk and honey’ play into their desire to emigrate.

To be sure, even our research can further confirm that economic concerns are pivotal for the Croatian youth, but it also tries to shed light on other factors that come into play. Our paper looks at the micro-level factors, which have not been explored as much as others. Interestingly, in terms of results, we did not find corruption to be statistically linked to the desire to move away, unlike other papers that deal with Croatian emigration.”

The media presents migration in the context of brain drain and as a negative factor for Croatia’s economy and demography is a multifaceted issue that has garnered considerable attention, particularly in countries like Croatia. However, this perspective raises important questions about the underlying motivations driving young people to migrate and the role of international education programs in this dynamic. The question then arises: isn’t the goal for young people to educate and improve themselves abroad? In this light, migration is not merely a loss for the home country but can also be viewed as an opportunity for individuals to enhance their skills and knowledge, which they could potentially bring back to their home country.

“We have two conclusions we can summarize from the data we used. First, Croatian youth from the sample were asked to select among pre-defined answers what might be the main cause for their wanting to move away. When asked that way, the three most selected answers were higher salaries, better employment, and an improvement in the standard of living. These three answers combined to make almost three-quarters of all answers. The second conclusion arises from the additional statistical analyses we carried out. In short, a young person’s desire to migrate was lesser if they were female, older, gave more importance to God in life, had better household situation, did not have any experience with being abroad for over 6 months, had a stronger Croatian identity, were more prone to believe interests of young people are represented in national politics, had more trust in the Government and, ultimately, if they perceived there was less difference in non-economic facets of life between the EU and Croatia.

When we looked into how long young people would want to stay abroad, the most common answer was not ‘for good’. The biggest proportion of them either did not know or envisioned being abroad for some limited period. In general, migration tends to be viewed from these two perspectives, with one taking a negative stance towards migration and the other emphasizing the good aspects of it. So, ‘the goal’ is ambiguous, depending on who you ask and what type of migration is at work. Not all migration is considered negative for the sending countries – people gaining education abroad and returning to their homeland is certainly seen in a positive light from a policy perspective.”

Program like Erasmus play a crucial role in shaping young people’s attitudes towards migration, suggesting that the goal of educating and improving oneself abroad is not only about personal gain but also about enriching the broader community, whether they choose to return or stay abroad. By facilitating access to diverse educational environments and fostering a sense of European identity, the Erasmus program encourages students to explore new opportunities beyond their national borders.

“One of the important goals of Erasmus is to foster European identity. Interestingly enough, in our research, we did not conclude that a stronger European identity also means a stronger desire to leave. On the other hand, we did see that those who were abroad for more than 6 months were significantly more likely to have a stronger desire to migrate, indicating that experience, more than the identity-related sphere, played a bigger part in this case. This specific question about the influence of Erasmus was definitely not answered in our paper, however, so we would be curious to know as well. “

Security has historically been a significant factor influencing the decision of Croatians living abroad to return to their homeland. How significant was security as a factor in your research and in the context of bringing young people back to Croatia?

“We cannot say much about returnees because we only researched people who are in Croatia currently and have a desire to leave. Still, our data does show that security was the only aspect that respondents deemed to be better in Croatia than in the EU. Given that this was not explored further in our paper, other research suggests that we cannot speak of a big return potential for people who left Croatia; even if they might have the desire, realizing it is a different beast. Research that touches on the subject of return usually does not take into consideration security as such, but speaks more of economic security, stating this as a most likely precondition for people to consider returning.”

„In any case, this data suggests that when young people are not satisfied with their national government and do not feel like their needs are met in the context of national politics, they will be more likely to leave.“ What to do? What measures should the government take? This trend underscores the urgent need for governmental action to reverse this flow and encourage the return of young citizens.

“This is, of course, a rather complex matter, but continuously working on youth participation together with including young people’s interests in the policy sphere and informing them on it should strengthen their feeling of (co)ownership of policy documents and decisions, while hopefully also working on a greater trust in this sphere. Of course, implementing a curriculum that encourages young people to actively participate wouldn’t hurt. “

Furthermore, the willingness of young Croatians to return after studying or working abroad, and their potential impact on the Croatian economy, remains an open question. However, their return could significantly benefit the economy by injecting new skills, ideas, and perspectives gained from their international experiences.

“If the consensus is that economic reasons prevail in young people’s decision-making, and if, for example, they achieve important social ties in the countries they migrated to, then yes, they would be less likely to return. But the reality is that these kinds of decisions are made within very wide and heterogeneous factors of influence, and there is no simple answer to this question.”

„It is interesting to note that compared to the same FES research from 2012, the desire for migrating has been reduced by 24% (Gvozdanović et al. 2019).“ How do you explain this as it contradicts the fact that the process of migration has been facilitated by joining the EU, and the advantages it brought (Schengen and Euro Zone, and the possibility of finding a job more easily abroad in member countries)?

“In 2012, Croatia was still recovering from the economic crisis, but it is also important to emphasize once more that our research was based on peoples’ expressed desire, that, even though connected to the realized migration, is certainly not the same thing. Moreover, the variable that measured the desire to leave was not identical in 2012 and 2018. When we looked at actualized emigration that took place in the same years, that data paints a different picture. In 2012, 2.809 young people left, and they made up 21.82% of the total emigrants in that year. In 2018, the same number was 11.207 young people, or 28.36%. This leads us to speculate that the decrease in migration desire was partially due to the fact that a portion of the people who had a pronounced desire to leave already left Croatia.”

We applaud the innovative efforts of our members as they delve into the field of migration from a fresh perspective, and there’s a sense of optimism that their insights will ignite a broader dialogue and inspire innovative approaches to migration policies and practices. To get a deeper understanding of the research and the results obtained by Grubišić Čabo and Fila, read the entire paper here. Check us out on Facebook and LinkedIn.

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