I work with Scandinavian economic history, with a focus on education’s role in industrialisation. I apply quantitative methods using historical source material to understand development patterns over the long term.
I am passionate about good research design and clear communication. My ambition is to explain interesting ideas in easily understandable terms.
I previously worked as an economist and strategic adviser within government in Australia, before moving to Denmark in 2018.
I’m attached to a research project on human capital acquisition across Denmark, Norway and Sweden during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The project uses individual-level records to track the background, studies and work experience of high school and university graduates over more than a century. The novelty and richness of the source material allows us to offer new insights on the role of higher education in long-term economic development and social mobility.
My research interests include:
- long-term economic growth and productivity
- human capital, particularly the role of education
- economic history
- macroeconomic theory
The first universities were established in the medieval age, connected to the Catholic church and educating only a small handful. A millennium later, and universities have expanded in number, scope and scale: tens of thousands of institutions of higher education exist around the world, with hundreds of millions of students studying fields ranging from the classical (theology, law) to modern sciences and technology.
Despite the explosion in higher education since World War II, the contribution of universities to economic development remains somewhat unclear. Yes, education matters for growth, and university graduates typically have greater earnings potential than non-graduates. But universities as a specific motor for economic growth is, to a large extent, more posited than proven. Valero and Van Reenen attempt to close this gap using data on almost 15,000 universities across 78 countries.→
There is broad agreement that human capital — the skills and attribute which influence individuals’ productive capacity — matters for long-term development. But curiously, there is mixed evidence on the role of human capital as a driver of industrialisation.
Part of the problem here may relate to how human capital is measured. At the macroeconomic level, human capital is typically measured with respect to education levels across the population: for example, years of schooling or literacy rates. But this may be less relevant than the ‘upper tail’ of knowledge in society: the select few with highly specialised skills. Mokyr, Sarid and van der Beek (2022) test this idea of upper-tail human capital in eighteenth-century Britain. Specifically, they look at the role of watermills, and the millwrights who were responsible for them.→