Stepping Stone Migration


What is a stepping-stone migration?

The stepping-stone migration (Szewczyk, 2013) is conceptualised as a migration in the pursuit of happiness imagined as a balance between various life components of career, family and personal life, where graduates need to remain flexible towards their ever changing life trajectories. It is a route through graduates’ fragmented lives and is the result of the abundance of personal and educational choices and uncertainty in the labour market (Cairns, 2009).

The key finding of my doctoral research based on 40 in-depth interviews with young Polish graduate migrants in England in 2011 shows that graduate migration is not entirely economically driven. It encompasses searching for missing life elements, which could not be found in ‘amenities bundle’ of one place (Whisler et al., 2008). More importantly, graduates interviewed expressed the necessity for a balance between life’s three main aspects: career, family and personal life, whose significance fluctuates at various life-phases, for example during the transition from university to employment, or setting up a family.



Cairns, D. (2009), Youth on the move? Student mobility and immobility in Portugal and Northern Ireland, CIES e-working paper, 74.

Szewczyk, A. (2013), ‘Stepping-stone migration. Polish graduates in England’. Doctoral thesis at Loughborough University, the UK.

Whisler, R.L., Waldorf, B.S., Mulligan, G.F. and Plane, D. (2008), Quality of life and the migration of the college-educated: a life-course approach, Growth and Change, 39 (1): 58- 94.

Graduate migration – voluntary, pushed or forced?

The concept of a stepping-stone migration that is searching for missing life elements (career, family and personal life) which cannot be found in the facilities package of one place, indicate that graduates have to be highly mobile to move through their life-trajectories.

With the free movement and employment rights across the EU (exceptions for new Member States), and changing economic conditions in post-2008 Europe, which are the result of the 2008 global financial crisis (Akyüz, 2010), a key question arising from this research is to what extent graduate stepping-stone migration is voluntary, pushed (King, 2002), or perhaps forced (Samers, 2010).

Also, with an increasingly saturated graduate labour market in Europe, rising numbers of unemployed graduates, leading to what many are coming to call ‘Europe’s Lost Generation’, there is urgent need for deeper, more detailed and nuanced research to reveal the complexities and experiences of the EU graduates migration and employment.

This is also pertinent to the issue of decreasing numbers of people of a working age in the majority of the 27 EU countries, shrinking due to consistently low birth rates (Eurostat, 2010), making a cohort of young and educated Europeans a timely and valuable asset at the EU labour market. Therefore, the phantom of ‘Europe’s Lost Generation’ appearing in the numbers of steeply rising graduate unemployment, as well as graduates interviewed readiness to migrate ‘somewhere else’, ought to be envisaged in policy debates in Europe on migration beyond Europe’s borders for labour market experience.  This is also leading to the question of stages at which graduates feel pushed to migrate, and keep migrating within the EU or decide to leave Europe and remain in such locations for longer.


Akyüz, Y. (2010), Global economic prospects: the recession may be over but where next?, South Centre Research Papers, 26.

Eurostat (2010), Statistical books. Europe in Figures, Year Book 2010. Retrieved 23 October 2012.

King, R. (2002), Towards a new map of European migration, International Journal of Population Geography, 8(2): 89-106.

Samers, M. (2010), Migration, Oxon: Routledge.


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