Losing Our Minds: Brain Drain across the United States

US Congress Joint Economic Committee:

Over the past 50 years, the United States has experienced major shifts in geographic mobility patterns among its highly-educated citizens. Some states today are keeping and receiving a greater share of these adults than they used to, while many others are both hemorrhaging their homegrown talent and failing to attract out-of-staters who are highly educated. This phenomenon has far-reaching implications for our collective social and political life, extending beyond the economic problems for states that lose highly-educated adults.

This report describes what this so-called “brain drain” looks like across the 50 U.S. states. We use data from the 1940 through 2000 decennial censuses and the 2010 and 2017 American Community Surveys to measure brain drain in each state.

We define a highly-educated “leaver” as someone in the top third of the national education distribution who resides in a state other than her birth state between the ages of 31 and 40. We then analyze brain drain using two measures: “gross” brain drain and “net” brain drain. Gross brain drain is defined as the share of leavers who are highly educated minus the share of adults who remain in their birth state (“stayers”) who are highly educated. Net brain drain is the share of leavers who are highly educated minus the share of entrants to a state who are highly educated.