The Silent Majority and the Escapees

As if is not enough that the Doomsayers are once again saying that the economy will collapse pretty soon (they hope they will be third time lucky), now we have had a full week of those same Prophets of Doom decrying the result of Ernst & Young’s “Generate Youth Survey” according to which most young people in Malta think they will not be living here in five years’ time.

According to the survey, some 43,060 GenZ (people aged 16-24) and Millenials (people aged 25-29) would like to live anywhere else, but Malta. This is close to 60% of people aged between 16 and 29.

Of course, if this were to happen, it would be an even bigger migration than that of the Fifties, when some 14,600 people emigrated, and that of the Sixties, when some 7,200 people left our shores in search of a better life. That was the post-war period and the years when we had the successive run-downs of the British military base. 

Life then was very precarious. There were hardly any manufacturing jobs, tourism was in its beginnings, and the financial services industry did not exist. The standard of living was very low, and people could see no future for themselves and their children. They left in droves.

So now, in the much better times, we are expected to believe that twice as many people will abandon Malta and move to Europe. By the way, some 23,300 young people think they will be living better in five years’ time, and so one would think that the incentive to leave would be rather weak. Some 27,200 do not know whether they will be living better or not. Presumably, people who do not know whether they will be living better or not would wait before deciding whether to emigrate.

Some 23,300 young people think they will be living better in five years’ time, and so one would think that the incentive to leave would be rather weak.

Assuming the worst case, adding 22,100 who believe they will be living worse in five years’ time to half of those who do not know and might decide to leave – 13,600 – then some 35,700 would leave. Compare that to the 43,000 who it is claimed would like to live elsewhere. The figures just do not add up.

The history of migration through the ages shows that most emigration occurs either because of catastrophic natural disasters (Chernobyl in 1986, or Honduras in 1998), collapse of the economy (Venezuela, 2012-2021), or severe economic contraction (the oil crisis of 1973). All such crises bring a heavy decline in incomes and a sharp rise in unemployment in their wake. Another reason for migration is when workers follow the flow of investment. Thus, many Germans have emigrated to Spain because of German-owned factories opening there.

We have none of those conditions in Malta. On the contrary, one could reasonably argue that young people would be deterred by high youth unemployment and low economic growth in most EU countries. Of course, if they are willing to face the uncertainty of securing a good job just because Brussels or Berlin are not over-developed, that’s another thing. Personally, I doubt it.

And where would these 43,000 go? Language barriers would exclude most EU countries (remember the disaster of Maltese emigration to Belgium?). It is presumed that the majority would want to emigrate to big cities, not to rural areas. If they are worried about high rents in Malta, then imagine their reaction to the high spikes in rents in most of the more advanced EU countries. They’d have to pay quite a hefty rent. A one-bedroom apartment in London or Dublin costs twice what it would cost in Sliema, and one in most other cities would cost 12-50% more unless you go to Warsaw or Prague.

One major shortcoming of the EY survey was that it did not ask young people what, in particular, attracts them in other European countries and what might not be so attractive. All we know is that overdevelopment and the environment in Malta were viewed by 68% and 55% respectively as a challenge. Of course they are, but would they necessarily spur them to emigrate? Way down, but a significant quarter, see traffic as another challenge. As if traffic is not a challenge in London, Paris, or Milan.       

One major shortcoming of the EY survey was that it did not ask young people what, in particular, attracts them in other European countries.

The cherry on the cake is that 20-21% are said to feel that COVID-19 and climate change are also challenges. Nobody said they aren’t, but more challenging than they are in other European countries? I would have thought that it is the other way round. After all, we have not had the kind of severe floods that are happening in other European countries because of climate change. Nor has COVID-19 been a greater challenge in Malta than elsewhere – in fact, rather the contrary, since Malta had the fourth lowest death rate per 100,000 people in the EU.

I am intrigued that, all of a sudden, so many young people are said to be considering escaping from Malta. One would have thought that something like that would have happened in the years immediately after we joined the EU. With all the hype about the Maltese having all kinds of opportunities, the number who emigrated during the period 2006-2010 were 8,919 – some 2,890 more than those who came back. 

Starting in 2011, more Maltese started coming back to Malta than emigrating. In fact, in the nine years since then, 4,620 more Maltese have returned to Malta than have left. Even in 2020, when according to the EY survey some 51% of young people said they would rather live elsewhere, there was a net influx of 336. Overdevelopment, the environment, traffic and what not, did not seem to deter them.

Could it be that the unrepresentative sample used by EY accounts for the problem I have in accepting these results? I would think so. Thus, some 57% of the 750 respondents of the survey were young people with an education in levels 5-8, when people with such an education were, in fact, only 23.8% of the 20-24 age bracket and 50% of the 25-34 age bracket.

If you add the 80,000 “silent majority” to the 43,000 escapees who have given up on Malta, then the PN would win by some 62% of the vote.

Similarly, the sample is not so representative when it comes to education levels 3-4, with EY showing 41%, when the percentages of the actual population are 61.3% for age bracket 20-24 and 35.8% for age bracket 25-34. Not to mention that EY’s sample includes a mere 2% in education level 2, when education levels 0-2 in the actual population are 24%.

In other words, the EY sample is heavily skewed towards the more educated section of the GenZ and Millenials. I would accept that these are the people who might be more inclined to live elsewhere, but then the magnitude would be considerably less than 43,000. Of course, I too would be worried if a significant percentage of such people were to leave, as we can ill afford a brain drain.

Frankly, I am very sceptical of the number being bandied about. The comments from the Opposition have been very partisan and opportunistic. I suspect that the number will be repeated so many times over the coming weeks that, by the end of the campaign, they will be entirely convinced that it is an incontrovertible fact. Supposedly, if you add the 80,000 “silent majority” to the 43,000 escapees who have given up on Malta, then the PN would win by some 62% of the vote. Seriously?

Of course, I take all this with a pinch of salt. We all know that our approach to serious subjects is very superficial. All too often, people write the headline or sketch out the pre-conceived agenda and then proceed to ferret out all the useless information which may support them. Makes for a great deal of fun and empty bombast, but thoroughly unproductive.

The Chernobyl disaster occurred, of course, in 1986, not in 1996 as originally stated. Apologies for the misprint.

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