Blogs | June 27, 2012

Should I relocate for work?

Mustufa asks: I am a 30-year-old chemical engineer presently working for a multinational company in petroleum refinery in India. Should I move to the Middle East and earn more money?

Ian answers: First up, I need to point out that I am an economist not a careers advisor, so this question strays outside my area of expertise. It is a very interesting question though – and one in which I have some personal experience. When thinking about your situation, I am reminded of some of my favourite lines from Shakespeare:
“There is a tide in the affairs of men.
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.” (Julius Caesar Act 4, scene 3)

Will it end in tragedy?
The great playwright expresses the opinion that at the right time, it is a good thing to take a chance. The reservations I have are whether you are reading the “tides” correctly – and that I think Shakespeare is wrong when he implies that staying where you are is a path to misery.
In your full question, you write that the Middle East offers a “huge sum of money and then later I could start my own business”. It is entirely possible that you could a lot earn more but can you be sure that you will make a “huge” amount?

Act I: Appearances can be deceiving
When weighing up whether to relocate, you might remember stories of other young engineers who worked in the Middle East and came back successful and happy. As appealing as this sounds, there is potentially a thinking trap coming into play here, known in behavioural economics terms as availability bias. These success stories are the people that get noticed and talked about. We might not hear about the contingent who made similar decisions but who were not as successful.
It’s not only engineers considering relocation who fall into this trap. An earlier eZonomics article said the same can hold true for many high-profile careers, including footballers, lawyers, singers and more. We might think of lawyers as well-off and living the glamorous life depicted in legal dramas on TV but research from the United States weighs costs and benefits of investing in legal education at private law schools and finds “the investment is shown to generally be a bad one”.
Appearances can be deceiving.

Act II: Do you see what I see?
When weighing whether to relocate, there also may be a tendency to look for evidence that supports the decision you want to make. Called confirmation bias, it has been found in research on topics ranging from investing to medical diagnoses and computer programming. Buying property is a good example, it is an emotionally-charged situation that can see people selectively interpret statistics to justify buying a dream property.
It is sensible to look at how others have succeeded or failed in circumstances similar to your situation. Before booking your flight, research thoroughly.Speak to people who have actually done what you are considering. But be conscious of noting the bad as well as the good.

Act III: Family matters
And when toting up the good and the bad, don’t forget to put your happiness into the equation. Happiness economics tells us that making more money tends to increase happiness up to a point (after which the happiness boost from rising income tapers off). So a move to the Middle East might help in that regard.
But many academics also believe that being close to friends and family boosts happiness as well. So in addition to the stress and financial costs of relocation, consider the emotional toll as well. Only you can judge what ties bind you to your home and friends. Staying where you are does not always mean being “bound in shallows and miseries” as Shakespeare writes.

Post script: I did it
To finish on a personal note, I was faced with a similar decision more than 20 years ago. I moved from Sydney to London. My reasons were not entirely professional as I was engaged to a Welsh woman. Economics cannot always be used to guide every choice.
Things have worked out well both for me and my (now) Welsh born wife. However, looking back, it is easy to see how it could have been different. Good luck.


Ian Bright
Ian Bright

Senior economist at ING
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