Published 1 September 2022 by Andrei Mihai
Next Gen Economics: Young Researchers Present Their Work to the World – and to Laureates
The Laureates may be the main draw of the Lindau Meeting on Economic Sciences, but the meeting is all about young economists and the experiences and growth they can draw from the meeting. The Next Gen Economics Sessions are an excellent opportunity for the young researchers to present their work in front of an audience that includes some of the best economists in the world.
It’s not exactly like a typical presentation – they only get 6 minutes to discuss their work, and then a few more minutes for questions and answers, but the format pushes researchers to condense their presentation and focus on the most striking and important part of their work. It’s a bit like science conference meets speed dating, and forms a dynamic and engaging structure that was followed in several sessions throughout the whole meeting.
From game theory and pharmaceutical contracts to the gender gap and the lingering effects of slavery, the young researchers presented a diverse body of work spanning different fields of economics. The Laureates pulled no punches: they dissected the presentations, looking at the potential shortcomings and challenges, and most importantly, offering valuable feedback. All the presentations were intriguing in their own way – here are just some of them (you can find a list of all the sessions at the end of the article with links to the videos).
Immigration and Jobs
Since economics has been a field, jobs have been a main focus. More recently, as the scope and breadth of the field have expanded, researchers have also looked at other aspects related to jobs. Notably, in 2021, David Card was awarded the Nobel Prize for his contributions to labour economics – and immigration was a big part of his work.
Luke Rawling from Queen’s University looked at immigrant networks and what implications they have for wages and employment outcomes. Around half of the workforce finds employment through their network – so if the network of immigrants is different from those of natives, their employment outcomes will also be different. Rawling works to expand this to include the network channel of job search. According to the findings, one-third of the immigrant-native wage gap (that is, the salary differences between two people who are identical on the job market) can be explained because the two groups simply know different people.
Olle Hammar looked at a different matter relating to immigrants and their social networks: integration. The matter is particularly significant in Sweden, where the immigrant population has doubled in recent decades but is of interest in many countries undergoing similar trends. Hammar is involved in carrying out a large-scale trial alongside an NGO that organises meetings between “new” and “established” Swedes. The project is currently ongoing, but results from a smaller scale pilot suggest that while these sessions don’t affect housing or social inclusion, they do have a positive effect on hours worked and income.
Daisuke Adachi, from Aarhus University in Denmark, studies the effects of robots across different occupations. Are robots truly taking our jobs, and if so, what jobs are they taking? The answer, as always, is ‘it’s complicated,’ but Adachi’s results suggest that surprisingly, middle-tier jobs will be the onest most affected. While jobs on the lower and higher end of the market could be even affected positively by robots, the middle part of jobs can see a significant reduction in overall wages. As highlighted by the subsequent discussion, the results are controversial: some economists predicted that lower-paid jobs will be the most affected, but Adachi expects the jobs most affected to be in the manufacturing sector, and those jobs are more in the middle of the pack than in the lower end of the pack.
The Green Touch
Of course, the environment couldn’t be left out. For better or for worse, much debate about climate change and other environmental challenges tie deeply with economics, and participants highlighted this through several thought-provoking projects.
Raisa Sherif from Max Planck Institute for Tax Law and Public Finance wanted to see whether pro-environmental behaviors are substitutes or complements; in other words, if you do one good deed for the environment, are you more likely to do another one (because you’re getting the taste of it) or less likely (because you feel you’ve already done your part)? Raisa carried out a field experiment among school students in Kerala, India, where there is virtually no recycling done. The project encouraged school students to recycle, and the students were split into three groups: a control group, a group where they were instructed on the importance of recycling, and a group where they were instructed and received an incentive to recycle (a certificate for the best recyclers). The results suggest that children in the third group were more likely to regard other environmental activities more favorably, which means that for this group, environmental behavior is a complement. If generalisable, this could be important for how we treat our ongoing environmental crises, and potentially, how we deal with them together, instead of one at a time.
Sebastian Wichert had a different focus: climate protests. In 2019, large-scale climate protests and strikes went on in Germany and elsewhere in the world. Wichert was curious whether these actually had an impact on electoral terms. The problem is a thorny one, because of the so-called climate trap: we have indecisive power actors who shy from climate action, and the young people who would benefit most from these actions have no political power. The 2019 events were an eruption of these tensions, and based on Wichert’s findings, they worked. Cities and areas where such protests took place were significantly more likely to vote for climate-friendly parties. Two other young researchers looked at different problems.
Santiago Saavedra Pineda from the Universidad del Rosario, Colombia trained a machine learning algorithm to detect sites of illegal mining (which is a major problem in Colombia) from remote sensing data. He found that even just disclosing the monitoring can help reduce illegal mining, and Pineda expects new technologies to expand state capacity and reduce illegal activities. Meanwhile, Moogdho Mahzab found that providing brick workers in Bangladesh with incentives can help transform brick manufacturing in the country, reducing its emissions, and promoting clean air and better health, with significant benefits not just for the workers themselves but also for the community.
The Thorny Problems of Health and Education
Health and education, two essential aspects in society, also have important ramifications for researchers in the field of economics.
Uta Bolt talked about the health gradient (the idea that people who are less advantaged socioeconomically have worse health than those who are better off); specifically, she looked at obesity. Obesity also has a gradient, Bolt found, and a third of this gradient can be explained by dietary investment decisions. Other things, like exercising, can also play a role, but its role is not as clear.
Rong Fu tried to measure the impact of something that’s hard to gauge: fear. Specifically, the fear of soon-to-be mothers in Japan of being exposed to radiation from the Fukushima nuclear power plant accident. The fear levels were linked to a minor weight decrease (around 30 grams). Minor health effects were also detected at age 2, but by age 5, there was no detectable difference in children based on fear level. This could have immediate applications in the ongoing pandemic, where some have expressed concerns that maternal stress could also lead to loss of offspring health.
Luke Milsom from University of Oxford looked at how moving opportunity is linked to road building and education in Benin, Cameroon, and Mali. Since opportunity is unevenly distributed across a country, people may want to move to different places (in this case, ‘opportunity’ was considered to be better education outcomes). So what role do roads play? Roads that connect two remote locations are more likely to increase inequality than roads that connect a remote location to a primary city. So policymakers can move opportunity by changing how they build roads, and this could be a consideration when the construction (or upgrading) of new roads is decided.
Benjamin Arold of the Institute and Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität-München looked at another aspect: how evolution is taught, and what effects that has on pupils in the long run. The findings show that pupils who are taught evolution know more about evolution (and are more likely to accept it) – but the results don’t spill over to other educational fields. So those who aren’t taught about evolution (in schools where focus on creationism, for instance) know less about evolution, but not necessarily less about other topics. These effects also translate into adulthood. This is significant because it suggests that if you want to educate the population in one particular field (say, climate change or financial education), including it as a topic in school is a useful practice.
From gender disparities to methodological research, there was no shortage of topics worth discussing at the sessions. The discussions between young economists and Laureates proved fruitful and who knows – maybe at some point, some of the young economists will switch sides and join these sessions as Laureates as well.