'Though multidisciplinary spaces are a challenge, they are necessary. They force me to think out of the box and see things from a different perspective'

In this episode, we speak with Eduard Suari Andreu (Leiden University) about his initial move from sociology to economics, the relationship between microeconomics and migration, theTransEuroWorkS project, and the necessity - and challenges - surrounding multidisciplinarity. 

By Vanessa Ntinu

Thank you for sitting down with me today, Eduard! Tell us a little bit about yourself and what sparked your initial interest in economics/applied microeconomics.

eduardWhen I was 18, I was a student in Barcelona and was not too sure what to do with my life. I knew I had an interest in society and history and culture but being 18, it is hard to know what to pick. I initially pursued Sociology and completed a degree between the ages of 18 and 22. When I finished, I found a job in a consultancy firm where economists and lawyers worked. Over time, I became increasingly interested in economics. There was already an interest in economics within my family with my dad now being a retired economist and a full-time professor at the University of Barcelona. The transition from sociology to economics was not difficult because there are some overlaps between the two disciplines.

While working full-time at this consultancy company, I decided to study economics. I was able to juggle my full-time job and my education and still managed to maintain a social life. In 2008, the crisis hit, and that made studying economics even more interesting. In the meantime, I realized I was doing too many things, so I had to make the decision between quitting my job or walking away from my studies. I decided to quit my job and do an Erasmus exchange program to finish my studies. Through this exchange, I landed in the Netherlands (Groningen) for a year as part of an exchange programme. I absolutely loved the experience and decided to stay there to complete my degree, do a master's, and ultimately a Ph.D.

You focus specifically on the economics of aging, labor, and migration - tell us a little bit about your work here and certain patterns you've identified.

During my Ph.D., I started working on the economics of aging. I focused specifically on the changes in pension systems, problems posed by the aging population, and how we can ensure everyone has access to a good pension. This naturally connects to the labor market.

I extensively studied the consumption and saving patterns of older people. I focused specifically on saving for the purpose of inheritance. Through my Ph.D., I discovered that people have different motives and incentives to save in old age. Some of them might be because they want to delay consumption now to ensure they have enough when they become older. Some of them might be because of these precautionary reasons or because they want to provide wealth to their children. I discovered that the inheritance motive was a very important motive. There are significant connections between these ambitions and housing - where you have older people very reluctant to move from their homes to be able to pass it on to their children.

In terms of parallels and disparities between the Netherlands and Spain, a lot can be said. I did my first empirical study in the Netherlands, and it was apparent that this pattern of older people aging in place (still living in the house they lived with their kids) exists here. This has been attributed as one of the reasons for the housing shortage in the Netherlands. This dynamic creates a situation where younger people are unable to move up the homeowner ladder. In Spain, the situation is even more exaggerated. 90% of pensioners in Spain own their home, which is a lot. At the same time, you have young Spanish people struggling a lot to buy their first house.

The transition from sociology to economics was not difficult because there are some overlaps between the two disciplines.

Why is it necessary to employ an economic lens when trying to understand migration?

That's a great question! I am an applied microeconomist, which means I work with quantitative data at the micro level, so at the level of the person or the household. When you have very comprehensive data sets at the individual level, you realize you can establish certain empirical facts that can be very helpful to improve certain societal debates. The discussion of migration is saturated with misinformation and politics. At times I listen to the discussion from both the political right and the left and it is apparent that neither side has adequately assessed data to come up with solutions. We need to ensure that these debates are making use of evidence and that they're based not only on opinions but also on facts.

You are currently involved in quite some interesting research - including the newly awarded Horizon project "TransEuroWorkS: Transforming European Work and Social Protection " with Olaf van Vliet. Tell us a little bit about this project and your role there.

To tell you about this project, I also have to tell you about how I started working on migration. The randomness of life was involved here as well, ha! Migration is a topic that was always at the back of my mind. When I moved to Leiden after my Ph.D., I met Olaf van Vliet while pursuing my Postdoc and he was working on migration. I found this topic very interesting, and he offered me an extension of my Postdoc. This Postdoc implied that I would be working on migration issues in relation to the labor market. I realized that if you do quantitative research, you can apply the same methods and statistical knowledge you have too many different topics. It also became apparent to me that migration and aging can also be incredibly related.

During this Postdoc, I and another postdoctoral student began working on this Horizon Europe proposal. For that, we made a consortium with 9 different universities and think tanks across Europe. It tackles many different social transformations, such as digitalization, globalization, and the green transition, and looks at the effects of these transformations on the labor market. In addition, it assesses what the welfare state can do to make these transitions smoother and reduce the gap between the "winners" and the "losers". In Leiden, we are mainly going to focus on the part on migration and the labor market.

We need to ensure that these debates are making use of evidence and that they're based not only on opinions but also on facts.

You are also an LDE GMD Fellow! Tell us a little bit about your experience - to what extent has the network been beneficial to you?

I find the initiative very interesting! I have only recently become an LDE Fellow but through this network, I have been able to present at the GMD conference and attend other interesting events. What I find most interesting about this network is that I encounter people from different disciplines more often, which has not really happened to me before in my career. Usually, I find myself going only to economics conferences and hanging out exclusively with economists.

The LDE GMD network and Fellowship programme allows me to talk to people that are anthropologists, sociologists, historians, and even architects! The network is incredibly multi-disciplinary, which has proven to be a great experience for me. Even though, to be honest, I do find this setup challenging sometimes. It is quite easy to say that you are in a multidisciplinary space but implementing it can actually be quite difficult. I notice that those of us from different disciplines speak different languages and I sometimes find it difficult to communicate what I am doing or to understand what others are doing. Though a challenge, I think it is necessary. It forces me to think out of the box and see things from a different perspective.

What advice would you give us as a center? What potential blind spots should we be wary of?

I think the most important thing would be for the Centre to have a policy focus, which I think might already be the case. Beyond this, it is important to ensure that the government and the institutions in The Hague know that you exist so that you can have some policy influence.

In the lens of being an economist, I would encourage bringing in more economists! To make a space truly multidisciplinary I suppose you have to make sure that all disciplines that have something to say on the topic are properly represented.