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 trends 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 to undertake a master’s degree in economics.

Hej, I’m Nick!

Academic interests

My research interests include:

  • long-term economic growth and productivity
  • human capital, particularly the role of education
  • economic history
  • macroeconomic theory

Dissertation project

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 contribution of higher education to long-term economic development.

The project is a cross-institutional collaborative endeavour, involving colleagues at Lund University, the University of Southern Denmark and the University of Tromsø. My position is generously financed through a grant from Handelsbanken Research Foundation.

  • Today, secondary schooling is a natural pathway for generations of young people. It was not always so. Historically, education was an elite pursuit. And even as public education systems with compulsory primary schooling began to take root (for much of the developed world, in the nineteenth century), high school remained the domain of a relative few who would study at university.

    In a world where access to education is restricted rather than open, where schooling is an option (perhaps only for some) rather than a necessity, it is relevant to consider the factors driving the pursuit of education. What determined who went to high school?

    One candidate is location. In a recent working paper, Insa-Sánchez explores how the geographic distribution of people and high schools across nineteenth-century Spain influenced educational attainment.

  • That people sometimes err when recalling their age is not uncommon. (I have even been guilty of it myself!) The problem is more acute in historical settings, and even in developing countries today: individuals with limited access to education are less able to calculate their age. An observed tendency is for innumerate people to round their age to the nearest five or ten. This gives rise to a phenomenon called age heaping, whereby data reveal sharp peaks of individuals aged (for example) 30, relative to either 29 or 31.

    Age heaping is a type of measurement error, for which different adjustment techniques can be employed. But age heaping has also come to be used as evidence: in the absence of data on education levels, changes in the incidence of age heaping over time can be used to infer changes in education. The logic of this is attractive: all else being equal, a decline in age heaping suggests a rise in numeracy. But all else is not always equal.

    In a new working paper, McLaughlin, Colvin and Henderson offer a warning on the perils of overinterpreting the significance of age heaping. Using census data from nineteenth-century Ireland, they show how age heaping can give an inaccurate picture of educational attainment.

  • Harmonious relations

    Music composers have a long history of learning from other composers. In a new working paper with Karol Jan Borowiecki and Maria Marchenko, we explore this tradition in composer education. How does a composer’s quality influence the quality of the composers he or she teaches?

    Our analysis draws on a comprehensive dataset of 17,433 composers over several centuries. We confirm the presence of quality transmission from teachers to students. Moreover, we find evidence of quality carrying through to subsequent generations of students: that is, not just teacher to student, but to student’s student, student’s student’s student and so on.