Exploring a Possible Factor for Brain Drain in the Contexts of Singapore and Hong Kong- the Role of Attachment to home domicile/country?

This exploratory study examines the importance of attachment to home country (or attachment to home domicile in the case of Hong Kong which is not a sovereign nation), as a determinant of people’s inclination to stay or leave their home country. There have been other competing constructs, such as place attachment, which is the bonding that occurs between individuals and their meaningful environments (Scannell & Gifford, 2010), but attachment to home country/domicile is different in that it builds on the rich literature in attachment research (c.f Bowlby, 1969; 1973; 1980; 1982).  At the same time, it taps on the concept of a home country or home domicile. A typically accepted definition of a home country/home domicile, is a geographic region with a common community of individuals, a shared set of institutions, land/place, and culture, that distinguishes the members of a group from those of another (Hofstede, 1984: 389).

We predicted that a secure attachment toward home country would predict greater intention to stay in that country, since having a secure attachment means being comfortable with being dependent upon, and close to, one’s home country. Conversely, since dismissive attachment is the attachment style most closely associated with avoidance of the home country, we predicted that a dismissive attachment would predict greater intention to leave that country. We test these hypotheses in two different contexts- i.e., Singapore and Hong Kong, amongst university students, who, in the literature, are a major source of brain drain (Baruch et al., 2007; Mok & Han, 2016; Tansel & Güngör, 2002). Findings supported our hypotheses. We found that Secure and Dismissive attachment affected the propensity to stay (to work) in Singapore, and we replicated this result in Hong Kong in the aftermath of the 2019 social unrest. With the Hong Kong dataset, we further showed that the results held even after controlling for political orientation, and we also showed that confidence in the future of Hong Kong, which is a psychological response to anticipated changes in its social-political system (Ho, Chau, & Chiu, 2013), was an important predictor of attachment style. Other than showing consistent replication effects, the Hong Kong dataset was useful in that it revealed that, even in a place undergoing uncertain political transition and political instability, and regardless of political orientation, secure or dismissive attachment predicted “stay” or “leave” intention. Therefore, one implication for policy makers would be that, increasing confidence in the future of a country would help with increasing secure attachment toward it, and thus help prevent outflow of talent. We encourage future research to build on our findings.

By CHOW Yi Lin, Dawn

Researchers: CHOW Yi Lin, Dawn, Gary NG, Yingyi HONG, Hayden KAM

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