Moving, remaining, and returning: international mobility of doctorate holders in the social sciences and humanities


International mobility of doctorate holders is one important dimension of the general phenomenon of internationalization and globalization of research systems, which is supposed to have positive effects on economy and society. Although issues of international mobility for doctorate holders have been largely investigated, there is still relatively little information about the factors affecting those with degrees specifically in the social sciences and humanities (SSH). Considering this, the aim of the current paper is twofold: first, to investigate whether the propensity of a doctorate holder in SSH to experience a period of international mobility during the career is influenced by mobility during the educational stage; second, to examine whether the mobility after doctoral degree affects the choice of doctorates to return to their country of origin, as opposed to remaining abroad, controlling for peculiar aspects of the higher education sector of employment. The results show that international mobility during graduate education and at the moment of choosing the first job on attaining the PhD are important factors influencing the future mobility of doctorate holders in the SSH areas. These same factors also influence the individual’s propensity to diverge (continue abroad) or converge (remain, return) with respect to their initial country of employment. The results of this investigation improve our knowledge about the effects generated by the early choices of individuals, which could support decision-makers in designing instruments addressing the international mobility of doctorate holders and, when relevant, creating the conditions for their return.

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  1. 1.

    The POCARIM dataset consist of a cross section (different Ph.D. holders from different countries). The data are treated as being at one point in time, because we are not able to know when the different job steps actually occurred.

  2. 2.

    We use the Hausman specification test to compare the performance of logit and probit models in the first case, and multinomial logit and multinomial probit models in the other cases. The hypothesis that the probit model is better than the logit model is always rejected.

  3. 3.

    The North-western Europe group includes Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway, Switzerland, and the UK. The South-western Europe group includes Greece, Italy, Portugal, and Spain. The Eastern Europe group includes Cyprus, Hungary, Latvia, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, and Turkey. The Extra-European countries group includes Brazil, Canada, China, and the USA.

  4. 4.

    The large countries group includes Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, the UK, Italy, Spain, Poland, and Turkey. The small countries group includes Belgium, Cyprus, Denmark, Finland, Hungary, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway, Latvia, Portugal, Romania, Switzerland, and Slovakia.

  5. 5.

    The other variables considered are not significant in any of the models examined.


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Correspondence to Emanuela Reale.

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Reale, E., Morettini, L. & Zinilli, A. Moving, remaining, and returning: international mobility of doctorate holders in the social sciences and humanities. High Educ 78, 17–32 (2019).

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  • Doctorate holders
  • Knowledge circulation
  • International mobility
  • SSH