The Changing Demographics of Expats

In recent years, new markets, new industries, and new ways of working have reshaped the global mobility sector – and in parallel with these changes, the profile of international assignees has also been shifting. It’s an issue we addressed earlier this year in a series of blogs called ‘Managing Modern Mobility’ – based around a paper I co-authored in my capacity as Co-Chair of Families in Global Transition (FIGT) – and it’s one we return to now, as we consider how the demographics of expats are evolving to present new challenges for employers and relocation professionals.

The factors which influence the composition of the expat workforce have always been complex – driven in part by the roles and skills demanded by employers, and in part by the changing demographics of society – but never more so than now. While the picture is one that is continually developing, it’s still possible to identify the emerging key trends which employers and industry professionals need to be aware of:

  • The generational dimension

There always have been, and always will be generational differences between the different age groups that make up the global workforce at any point in time. But the disparities in values, aspirations and motivations between generations are especially wide at present. The first generation of ‘digital natives’ – the ‘Millennials’, are starting to enter the workplace, and by 2020 are expected to make up the majority of the workforce. The expectations of Millennials are reflective of the changing economic, technological and increasingly globalised environment that they have grown up in. At the other end, the post-war ‘Baby Boomers’ are beginning to retire – but still account for a significant proportion of expats. Sandwiched between these two diverse groups, with career experience forged during times of rapid technological innovation and emerging worldwide markets is ‘Generation X’.

  • Gender diversity

A few decades ago, the percentage of female expats could be expressed in single figures, but the number of female international assignees has been steadily rising, and looks set to continue doing so. The 2014 Global Mobility Trends Survey carried out by Brookfield reports that 20% of international assignees are now female – compared to a historical average of 17%.

  • Aging population

Population ageing is a demographic revolution affecting the entire world. For the first time in history, our global population will no longer be young, thanks to lower fertility, increased child survival and better health. Population ageing is happening in all regions and in countries at various levels of development. It is progressing fastest in developing countries, including in countries with large populations of young people. No country is exempt: This generation is growing at a faster rate than the total population in almost all regions of the world.

  • Family models

The traditional expat family unit of a career dad, stay-at-home mum, and 2.4 children is no longer necessarily the norm. The modern family unit comes in a wide range of forms: it’s increasingly likely that both parties in a relationship will have their own professions and pursue their own careers; many couples choose not to have children, and same sex partnerships are commonplace.

All the indications are that global mobility will increase over the coming years. At the same time, the demographics of expats will continue to evolve and reflect the changes in wider society. As the profile of assignees evolves, those people and organisations with responsibility for dealing with them will need to take these changing demographics into account, and make adjustments to the services they provide, re-evaluate how they deliver them, and find new ways to engage. In our next blog post, we’ll consider how this might be best achieved.

Are the changing demographics of international assignees impacting on your organisation? What steps have you taken to address them? Please share your experiences and thoughts with us at expatknowhow. If you’d like to read the paper ‘Managing Modern Mobility’ in full, please click here!

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