The Transition to the Knowledge Economy, Labor Market Institutions, and Income Inequality in Advanced Democracies

Publication by Angelo Martelli ’11 (Economics)

Angelo Martelli '11

Hot off the press! My publication “The Transition to the Knowledge Economy, Labor Market Institutions, and Income Inequality in Advanced Democracies” with David Hope (King’s College) is finally out in World Politics.

A good read for all those interested in understanding the extent to which the relationship between the changing nature of work and income inequality is influenced by national labor market institutions.

Paper abstract

Recent work in comparative political economy has found that labour market institutions can mitigate the inequality-enhancing effects of the transition to the knowledge economy (Hope and Martelli 2019). While this work enhances our understanding of the role and importance of labour market institutions in the post-industrial era, it cannot tell us much about the underlying mechanisms. This paper aims to fill that gap in the literature by undertaking a micro-level econometric study on Denmark using a unique longitudinal dataset with linked employer-employee data, the Integrated Database for Labour Market Research (IDA). The central analysis in the paper will explore the influence of union membership and collective bargaining on within and between firm inequality in knowledge-intensive sectors. It will also test competing hypotheses as to why labour market institutions have been able to damp down the effects of the transition to the knowledge economy on income inequality.

A couple of takeaways

The transition to the knowledge economy began in earnest after the crisis of Fordism in the 1970s. Figure 1 (below) shows the employment expansion in knowledge-intensive service sectors, such as finance, insurance, business services, and telecommunications, between 1970 and 2006. Growth of knowledge employment was ubiquitous in the advanced democracies over this period; the average employment expansion was close to nine percentage points. The rise of the knowledge economy is clearly demonstrated by this substantial shift in economic structure away from traditional industries and toward ICT-intensive service sectors.

figure 1

Figure 2 (below) shows that for the income share of the top 1 percent, an increase in knowledge employment is associated with an increase in inequality when wage coordination and collective bargaining coverage are very weak, but has little or no effect when they’re at their highest levels.

figure 2

You can read more about this research in a blog post I wrote with my coauthor based on a previous version of the paper on LSE’s European Politics and Policy blog (EUROPP).

Next we are planning to work on A Micro-Level Study of the Knowledge Economy, Institutions, and Income Inequality.


Angelo Martelli ’11 is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at LSE. He is an alum of the Barcelona GSE Master’s in Economics.

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The long journey from research to impact: remittance regulation in sub-Saharan Africa

Antonia Esser ’11 (International Trade, Finance, and Development)


I started to work on remittances around three years ago when I joined my current organization, the Centre for Financial Regulation and Inclusion (or Cenfri in short) as a researcher. We are an independent, not-for-profit think-and-do-tank based in Cape Town, South Africa, trying to answer complex questions around the role of the financial sector in improving individuals’ welfare in emerging economies. Remittances is one of our key focus areas and we have received donor funding from Financial Sector Deepening Africa (FSDA) to understand why the cost of sending funds into Africa is still the highest in the world.

According to the World Bank, the average cost of sending remittances globally stood at just under 7% of the total value of the transfer in the first quarter of this year; in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), consumers had to pay on average 9.25% – by far the most expensive region in the world. The SDGs want to bring down the cost to between three and five percent. Most disturbingly, intra-Africa transfers can cost way more than 15% in some corridors, even when the countries are neighbours (e.g. Nigeria and Cameroon where a transfer can cost 15%). The following graphic shows the average prices some time in 2017 between the UK and selected African countries.

The cost of sending remittances to and within Africa are the highest in the world. Sources: FSDA (2017) and The World Bank (2017)

When one considers that around 80% of African migrants stay within Africa, this is an incredibly high burden in terms of cost that reduces the positive impact of these essential flows for recipients. Many migrants are therefore forced to use informal mechanisms that are often cheaper, more trusted and more convenient. Yet informal mechanisms can be fronts for illicit financial flows, including money laundering and the financing of terrorism. They also indirectly influence competition as they mask the true size of a remittance corridor, deterring providers from entering the market.

Formal remittance flows are now higher than the value of official development assistance (ODA) and foreign direct investment (FDI). They have shown to have significant positive impact as they flow directly in the hands of those that rely on these funds as a primary source of income, and they tend to be more stable than ODA or FDI.

Based on all this evidence, FSDA asked us to understand the cost drivers and why it is still so expensive to send money to and within the continent despite all the innovations in the FinTech space with apps from players such as WorldRemit. We embarked on a journey to collect evidence through stakeholder interviews (with private sector players such as money transfer organisations, banks, FinTechs, and post offices, as well as regulators, policy makers and experts), mystery shopping, speaking to consumers, and ploughing through existing literature. We travelled to important remittance markets such as Nigeria, Ethiopia, Côte d’Ivoire and Uganda last year to understand the situation on the ground.

What I’ve learned since then is that remittances are an incredibly complicated business. It consists of providers in the first mile (where cash sending happens), the middle mile (where the processing of payments happens) and the last mile (where the recipient collects the money). The value chain is therefore very long and brings with it not only partnership complications but also technical issues. Cross-border money transfers are heavily regulated due to money laundering fears and severe risk exposure, but especially in Africa capital outflows of any kind are also heavily controlled in many markets still. To get a money transfer license can sometimes take a decade, we heard from some providers.

Overall, there were many interesting insights but at the end of the day we narrowed the reasons for the high costs down to four categories: business case barriers, regulatory barriers, infrastructure barriers and consumer-facing barriers. We then evaluated the number of citations and their impact on cost and access for the consumer to show how severe the barrier is for both providers and consumers:

Chart summarizing insights
Click to view the full-size image

From these insights we produced a range of reports, that you can access here, if you are interested, with the aim to disseminate them at key events and bring them into relevant discussions with the various stakeholders.

One avenue we are pursuing is to reduce the regulatory burden for providers to stimulate competition, especially in intra-Africa corridors. Many cross-border corridors are still dominated by one or two companies such as Western Union or MoneyGram that can set their prices freely. They are helped by the regulation as the licensing requirements in some cases can be incredibly high. For example, you may need to show capital of USD 20 million, be operational in at least seven countries for at least ten years. Of course, none of the newer players that can offer cheaper remittances through using apps, for example, can meet all
these requirements.

We were therefore on the hunt to influence regulators to revise some of the regulations. And a lot of regulation touches cross-border remittances: payment system act, banking act, foreign exchange act, agent banking regulation, e-money regulation, telecommunications regulation, cross-border transfer regulation etc – the list goes on and on. Every country seems to have their own set of rules and regulations that need to be made interoperable or at least harmonise to reduce the regulatory burdens in a value chain that can cross many jurisdictions. Definitely not an easy task! Many African countries are still heavily dependent on natural resources, such as Nigeria on oil for example. Their exchange rate with the dollar is fixed by the central bank. Yet, the Nigerian Naira is overvalued, leading to a parallel shadow market where one can get better rates for dollars on the streets of Lagos, impacting the use of formal remittance channels. But of course, the regulator is very concerned with financial stability and the impact a devaluation could have on foreign exchange reserves, inflation etc. Attracting more formal remittances does not sway the regulator enough to change the exchange rate policies. All of these realities need to be taken into consideration when approaching the regulators to try and achieve change based on research, and of course protocols play a huge role.

As part of this effort to reach regulators and based on the research we had done, I was recently invited to attend the inaugural meeting of experts, organized by the African Institute for Remittances (AIR), which is a programme established by the African Union. We were called from all over the continent based on our research and professional experience to build a cohort that would give technical assistance to willing African regulators. Last month we met in Mombasa, Kenya, and learned more about the planned interventions. On the one hand, we want to achieve better remittance data quality in the individual countries as the data can be questionable, but on the other hand we want to assist with writing the right kind of regulation that fosters innovation, reduces cost without reducing the access for consumers, and incentivise the uptake of formal remittance mechanisms.

I learned which data point to allocate to which balance of payment code at the central bank to make sure there is consistency across countries. I also learned how we will go about understand the regulatory background, as of course there is a difference between de jure and de facto regulation, i.e. we need to understand how regulation is interpreted from a stakeholder point of view.

So far it has been an exciting journey to see how we can take our insights into regulatory change. Some countries have already shown interest in being assessed and assisted and we will receive a list of our country missions as the expert cohort soon. Judging from our past work with regulators, this process can take many months, years if not decades but the potential impact of such fundamental changes is immense, especially for the individual person on the ground. System-level impact takes patience and perseverance.

ITFD taught me to be precise and on-point with my research to effect change – policy makers do not want to read 300 pages no matter how well-researched the material is. Insights need to be relatable and digestible, yet you also need to be able to raise funding for important interventions even if they seem cumbersome. We are lucky that FSDA has such a mandate and I look forward to continuing this journey with them and the African Union. Hopefully I will be able to report a significant drop in remittance prices due to regulatory change soon..ish.


Antonia Esser ’11 is an Associate at Cenfri in Cape Town, South Africa. She is an alum of the Barcelona GSE Master’s in International Trade, Finance, and Development.

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Solving data science problems with Record Matching

Presentation by Data Science alum Jordan McIver ’15


Every organisation needs to be able to properly connect disparate datasets to take full advantage of their data assets. Alchemmy held an event to discuss approaches and technologies to connect datasets and watchouts to consider once they are connected.

Check out my talk here where we look at an approach that best enables data scientists by partnering them with the other staff who actually hold the context of the data:

Video summary

Most businesses have some or all of the following problems: not enough data science resources for the work required; a large community of data-adjacent staff who have most of the context but are not contributing what they know in the right way; data science problems lacking that same context; algorithms that cannot overcome a lack of data quality or availability of training data. Jordan walks through the use of interactive dashboards where users quality assess the data and this feeds back into the data science process which addresses these problems.


Jordan McIver ’15 is Head of Data Consulting at Alchemmy in London. He is an alum of the Barcelona GSE Master’s in Data Science.


Economics by Barcelona GSE alumni at CaixaBank Research (Vol. 2)

Recent work by alumni at CaixaBank Research

It’s our second roundup of articles by Barcelona GSE Alumni who are now working as research assistants and economists at CaixaBank Research in Barcelona (see Vol. 1).

This roundup includes posts and videos from the second half of 2018 and early 2019, listed in reverse chronological order. Click each author’s name to view all of his or her articles from CaixaBank Research in English, Catalan, and Spanish.

Education as a lever for inclusive growth

Ricard Murillo ’17 (International Trade, Finance, and Development)

The importance of education for people’s well-being throughout all stages of their lives is beyond any doubt. At the economic level, individuals with higher levels of education tend to enjoy higher employment rates and income levels. What is more, all the indicators suggest that in the years to come, the role of education will be even more important. The challenges posed by technological change and globalisation have a profound effect on the educational model.

Social cohesion and inclusive growth: inseparable

Javier Ibáñez de Aldecoa ’18 (Economics)

Faced with the major transformation of the productive system brought about by technological change and globalisation, as well as the challenges posed by an ageing population, it is important to take action to strengthen social cohesion – an indispensable element if we are to carry out reforms that foster an inclusive and sustained form of growth.

The central banks, at the helm of a more volatile environment

Adrià Morron ’12 (Economics) and Ricard Murillo ’17 (ITFD)

The US and the euro area are at different stages of their financial cycles: while the Fed’s monetary policy is close to becoming neutral or even restrictive, the ECB remains in clearly accommodative territory. However, to some extent, both are facing a common risk: the decoupling between their monetary policy and the financial conditions. The two institutions will try to manage their tools carefully, in order to facilitate a gradual adjustment of the financial conditions in the US and, in the case of the euro area, to keep them in accommodative territory.

Regulation more appropriate to the nature of the banking sector

Gerard Arqué ’09 (Macroeconomic Policy and Financial Markets)

Thanks to the implementation of the measures introduced following the financial crisis, today the financial sector is more robust than before. This will help to minimise the impact to the economy and financial stability in periods of upheaval, since countries with better-capitalised banking systems tend to experience shorter recessions and less contraction in the supply of credit. However, the outstanding tasks we have mentioned should be properly addressed sooner rather than later.

Bonus video! An unconventional monetary policy cycle

Adrià Morron ’12 (Economics)

Central banks are facing the challenge of removing the extraordinary measures imposed during the financial crisis of 2007-2008 and the subsequent economic recession. In normal times, central banks would simply raise interest rates up to the desired level. However, monetary policy is currently in a rather unconventional cycle.

Source: Caixabank Research

If you’re an alum and you’re also writing about Economics, let us know where we can find your stuff!

The heterogenous effects of environmental taxation on green investment

IND+I Science award for research by Kinga Tchorzewska ’15 (Economics)


I am honoured and overjoyed to have received the IND+I Science award in the category of “Green Industry for Sustainable Growth.” Big thank you to Magdalena Dominguez ’17 and Rodrigo Martinez ’17 for representing me at the award ceremony! So delighted and motivated even more to work hard towards research on public policies and green innovation!

Fellow BGSE alum Magdalena Domínguez ’15 collects the prize on Kinga’s behalf

About the paper

This paper investigates the effectiveness of environmental taxation at stimulating adoption of energy efficient and pollution abating technologies across manufacturing firms.

To that aim, we use the fact that Spain does not have a consolidated environmental taxation policy at the national level, instead there exist significant differences between regions in implementation of the environmental taxes e.g.  air pollution taxes, waste taxes and others. We use categorical treatment matching to study the heterogenous effects of different levels of taxation on adoption of green technologies. We assess the effects between firms forced to pay environmental taxation (treated) and those that did not have to pay such taxes (controls) as well as between different levels of environmental taxation (small, medium, large). We control for time and firm fixed effects thanks to the use of a panel data set of 2,562 Spanish firms between 2008 and 2014.

We find that environmental taxation is ineffective at stimulating green technologies adoption at low levels of environmental taxation. As we increase the level of taxation the effect increases. Additionally, we find that even low levels of environmental taxation can be effective if combined with public financing. In that case the effect is stronger than from providing public financing alone.

The research leading to these results has received funding from RecerCaixa (RecerCaixa project 2016: The climate change challenge: policies for energy transition) and it is supervised by my advisor Prof. José Garcia-Quevedo.

I would also like to add that I will be awarded a SEBAP Research Mobility Grant this month, which is financing my current stay at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, working with Prof. Tatyana Deryugina.


Kinga Tchorzewska ’15 is a visiting scholar at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She is an alum of the Barcelona GSE Master’s in Economics.

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Fake News, Immigration and Opinion Polarisation

A poster by Carlo Borella ’17 (Economics) has won the Festival Prize at the 2019 LSE Research Festival.

A poster created by Carlo Alessandro Borella ’17 has won the Festival Prize at the 2019 LSE Research Festival. This prize was awarded to the shortlisted submission that best engaged with the LSE Festival theme “New World (Dis)Orders” as judged by LSE Director Minouche Shafik.

Carlo’s poster is based on a paper of that same title that he wrote with fellow Barcelona GSE alum, Diego Rossinelli ’17 (Economics). That paper was published in SocioEconomic Challenges a few months after they graduated from the Barcelona GSE Master’s.

Carlos receives the award at the LSE Research Festival

About the paper

Nowadays, it is hard to venture online without coming across a heated discussion over “Fake News”; as a result, people are finding hard times moving through an entirely new distorted era of misinformation. In this paper, we investigate the effect of fake news on people’s opinion polarisation.

Carlo and his winning poster
Carlo and his winning poster. See the full-size poster

About the authors

Carlo Borella is a research assistant and Master’s student at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

Diego Rossinelli is a specialist in social policy evaluation at the Ministry of Development and Social Inclusion of Peru.

Both are graduates of the Barcelona GSE Economics Master’s Program.

Green Public Procurement as a Leverage for Sustainable Development: Documental Analysis of 80 Practices in European Union

Book chapter by Daniele Alimonti ’16 (Economics of Public Policy)

book cover

While working as a research assistant at the Barcelona GSE, Daniele Alimonti ’16 (Economics of Public Policy) co-authored this chapter of the book “Green Public Procurement Strategies for Environmental Sustainability” curated by Rajesh Kumar Shakya (The World Bank, USA) and published by IGI Global. His co-authors are professors and researchers from Tor Vergata University in Rome, Italy.

Daniele shares this summary of the article:

The article aims to highlight the advantages of Green Public Procurement (GPP) practices to address the environmental and economic problems during the different stages of the tendering procedure. Laying on the experiences of the European countries, the research has the objective to reconstruct the state of the art of green public procurement through the lens of a cross-country comparative analysis. After introducing a systematic review of the literature and the core regulations of the GPP practice, the article underlines the results of a multidimensional analysis on a cluster of 80 practices, identified by the European Union and implemented by governments in 25 countries at a central, regional, or local government level. The framework of the analysis builds on several dimensions, mapping the main results on the following levels: geographic origin, government level, implementation period, main criteria used for implementation, as well as environmental and economic impact of such practices.

Daniele Alimonti is currently a research analyst at the Institute for Political Economy and Governance (IPEG) in Barcelona.

About the Barcelona GSE Master’s Program in Economics of Public Policy

Happy now? Lessons for economic policy makers from a focus on subjective well-being

Master’s in Economics of Public Policy alum George Bangham ’17 currently works as a policy analyst at the Resolution Foundation, an influential London-based think tank focused on living standards. In February George published a new report on subjective well-being in the UK, which marked the Foundation’s first detailed analysis of subjective well-being data and its lessons for economic policymakers.

The report received widespread media coverage in the UK GuardianTimes and elsewhere, as well as international coverage in France and India among other countries.

It was launched at an event in Westminster where speakers included the LSE’s Professor Paul Dolan, UK Member of Parliament Kate Green and former head of the UK Civil Service Lord Gus O’Donnell.

George Bangham ’17 presents his report for the Resolution Foundation in Westminster

Speaking to the Barcelona GSE Voice, George said that while researching and writing the paper he had drawn closely on the material he covered while studying for the Master’s in Economics of Public Policy, particularly the courses on panel data econometrics, on the analysis of social survey microdata, and on the use of subjective well-being data for policy analysis.

You can see more of George’s publications and blog posts on the Resolution Foundation website. Follow George on Twitter @georgebangham

Unlucky Cohorts: Estimating the Long-Term Effects of Entering the Labor Market in a Recession in Large Cross-Sectional Data Sets

A new publication by Hannes Schwandt (GPEFM ’12) in the Journal of Labor Economics

Hannes Schwandt (GPEFM ’12) is Assistant Professor of Economics at Northwestern University’s School of Education and Social Policy, currently visiting Stanford University’s Institute for Economic Policy Research (SIEPR). His paper, “Unlucky Cohorts: Estimating the Long-term Effects of Entering the Labor Market in a Recession in Large Cross-sectional Data Sets” (with Till von Wachter) has just been published in the January 2019 issue of the Journal of Labor Economics. The paper has garnered attention from major media outlets including The Economist and The Financial Times.


This paper studies the differential persistent effects of initial economic conditions for labor market entrants in the United States from 1976 to 2015 by education, gender, and race using labor force survey data. We find persistent earnings and wage reductions, especially for less advantaged entrants, that increases in government support only partly offset. We confirm that the results are unaffected by selective migration and labor market entry by also using a double-weighted average unemployment rate at labor market entry for each birth cohort and state-of-birth cell based on average state migration rates and average cohort education rates from census data.

Media attention

See how media outlets covered this paper (subscription may be required):

Mothers’ Care: Reversing Early Childhood Health Shocks through Parental Investments

Working paper co-authored by Barcelona GSE alum Cristina Bellés-Obrero (Economics ’12, GPEFM ’17)

Adult and baby holding hands

Barcelona GSE alum Cristina Bellés-Obrero (Economics ’12, GPEFM ’17) has co-authored a new working paper with Antonio Cabrales (UCL), Sergi Jiménez-Martín (UPF and Barcelona GSE) and Judit Vall-Castello (CRES-UPF) on “Mothers’ Care: Reversing Early Childhood Health Shocks through Parental Investments.”

Cristina shares a summary of the paper and some notes about the writing process:

The paper

Health shocks at birth are important in and of themselves. But they also have an impact on outcomes later in life, such as education, productivity or adult health.  There is a large literature showing that health shocks at birth lead to important negative outcomes later on.  For instance, children born with low birth weight have a higher probability of having adverse health and developmental outcomes in the medium run (Johnson and Schoemi (2011a,b), Case et al. (2005)).  However, there is much less research on the potential factors that can compensate those early life shocks. This represents an important element with strong implications for policy makers. 

In this paper, jointly with Antonio Cabrales, Sergi Jimenez and Judit Vall, we identify one of these factors.  In particular, we want to answer the following question: Are educated parents able to reverse a negative health shock that their children experience at birth?

To answer this question we study the causal effect of a child labor regulation on the short and long-term health of the affected individuals’ descendants. In 1980 a child labor reform took place in Spain, which increased the minimum legal age to work from 14 to 16 years old. A previous paper shows that this reform increased the education of both women and men. At the same time, the reform decreased the fertility and marriage rates of individuals affected, and importantly, it was detrimental for their male children’s health at delivery. At birth, male babies from more educated mothers have worse perinatal health outcomes, such as lower birth weight or low maturity. We estimated that the reform caused 618 more births at less than 37 weeks of gestation, 837 more first multiple births, and 768 extra births with low birth weight. On the other hand, we do not find the same negative impact of the reform over female babies. 

Given the size of the effects that we find on birth outcomes and the established links between health at birth and long-term health, we would expect that the deterioration of infant health at birth would persist in the medium and long term unless there is a compensation mechanism. Yet, in the medium run, we find that the effects of the reform on objective health outcomes are insignificant for both males and females. Thus, we can conclude that educated parents can reverse negative shocks at birth.

Our data suggest that the long term reversal is achieved through maternal vigilance. The male children of treated mothers with higher education are perceived as having worse health even at older ages. Their objective health status is, however, indistinguishable from that of other boys. This suggests more concerned mothers. These boys are also more likely to have private health insurance. This latter trait is significant. In Spain private health insurance is purchased in addition to the universal public health coverage. This double coverage allows beneficiaries to avoid the system gatekeeper and, hence, to have quicker access to specialists and additional tests and checkups. 

The process

We started this paper in 2017 as a follow-up project. In a previous paper, Elena Del Rey, Sergi Jimenez and Judit Vall analyze the effects of the child labor reform over education and labor market outcomes. They find that the reform increased the educational attainment of both men and women affected by the regulation. In particular, they find that the reform reduced the number of early school leavers (individuals not finishing compulsory education) by 7.6% in the case of men, and by 11% in the case of women. They also find a positive effect in the probability of attaining post-compulsory education. The reform decreased the number of individuals that do not attain any level of post-compulsory education by 3.3% for men and 2.7% for women.. 

In a different paper, we show that the reform decreased marriage and fertility rates for affected women. At the same time, we also find evidence that the reform is detrimental for the health of the offspring at the moment of delivery. We document three channels contributing to this detrimental effect: the postponement in age of delivery, the increase in single mothers, and the increase in the likelihood that those women engage in unhealthy behaviors such as smoking.

Thus, the reform had a positive effect on the parents, that are now more educated, but a detrimental effect on their children’s health at the moment of delivery. This reform, then, constitute a perfect setting to analyze parent’s education as a possible factor that will allow the reversal of negative health shocks at birth.