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Emigration from Central Europe: Acute Crisis or Par for the Course?

Denes Salyi 2018.06.04.

Recent data suggest that Hungary is roughly in the middle of the road among European countries when it comes to it rate of emigration or temporary stays abroad, although it remains above the EU average. Nevertheless, the latest Eurostat survey (which you can read in full here) shows that the proportion of Poles, Romanians and others leaving their homelands in order to find jobs or to study in a foreign country is much higher than that of Hungarians.

To make a detailed picture of emigration statistics is not easy since, many go to Western Europe just for a few months or a year before returning home. Currently, approximately 5.2% of Hungarian employees aged between 20 and 64 works abroad, which is a 2.8% increase from the 2012 (when it was 2.4%). In addition, a far smaller proportion of Hungarian citizens work abroad than, for example, in Romania, where almost 1/5th of working age citizens have left their homeland, at least temporarily.

Eurostat: More than 330,000 Hungarians Work Abroad

Undoubtedly, many share the illusion that it is easy to save a considerable amount of money in a short time in Western European big cities. Although wages and salaries are much higher there, certain aspects of cost of living, such as medical care, public transportation, costs for higher education, etc., are more expensive as well. Only a very puritan lifestyle and a disciplined  daily routine could enable average employees coming from Central-Europe to the West to put away enough money to make a promising (re)start at home. Adapting to a different environment, building new connections, and socializing are just a few of the tasks facing those arriving in a new country.  On the other hand, many young Hungarian who do not move abroad do not have very clear, positive prospects of having a flat of their own, a new car, or being able to establish an independent life for themselves in the long term.

The alternative to owned housing, which for many is accessible only through parents or grandparents, and which makes up nearly 90% of all flats and houses, is renting. In Hungary, monthly rent eats up about half of an average wage earners’ pay, as opposed to Western Europe, where usually one-third of income goes toward paying rent.

Better off in Berlin? Think Tank Argues that Wage-Rent Ratio Worse in Budapest than in Many Western Capitals

Each society bears losses if its youth emigrate to other countries. What are the prospects in this field for Central-and Eastern-Europe? Globalization as a major tendency is expected to continue, and in fact will only grow over time. Smart phones and computerization are going to make communication even smoother over long distances as well. Likewise, standardization will make life in different parts of Europe (and the world) more and more alike in spite of the fact that differences in salaries will hardly disappear. Younger generations, coming into adulthood after the fall of Communism, may redefine ideas like “home” or “homesickness.” In the age of cheap air travel and social media, young people may change homes more easily, meaning that governments will face an enormous challenge to keep their citizens at home.

Jobbik MP Says Hungarian Emigration Could Trigger a “Demographic and Economic Catastrophe”

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán is hoping the demographic situation will improve in his country. Security and economic conditions in Western Europe in the future are hard to foresee, but they are developments that the Budapest government cannot influence. What the cabinet has to do is to create and support circumstances for the generations in their 30s and 20s (and younger), especially in terms of housing and livelihood, which will draw the country closer to Western standards of living and will keep its young citizens in their homeland.


By Dénes Sályi

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