Spotlight on Young Researchers: Isabel Z. Martínez

 

Isabel Z. Martínez has been interested in how policies are put in place and how they affect people’s lives for as long as she can remember. After completing her Masters in Economics, she realised that academia was the ideal way to quench her thirst for analysing large data sets and finding answers to questions addressing people’s well-being and policy decisions. The Swiss-Spanish national has been studying income and wealth inequality in Switzerland for years and has now come to Luxembourg as a Postdoc at LISER to expand her research to the Grand Duchy. We spoke to Isabel about life as a research economist, and how it has already enabled her to travel across the globe, as well as work with some of the foremost researchers in her field.

What do you work on as an economist in research?

“I have been working on income and wealth inequality in Switzerland, with a special focus on top incomes, for several years now. Like in many countries, top incomes have been increasing in Switzerland over the past 20 years.

“I would like to extend this research on top incomes to cover Luxembourg. Luxembourg is a particularly interesting case due to its large financial sector, the firm-friendly tax environment, and its large share of foreigners working in the country. Luxembourg shares these and other characteristics with Switzerland, and I would like to compare the evolution of income and wealth inequality in the two countries to gain a better understanding of what is driving top incomes.

“In a new project, I study wealth inequality in Switzerland and across Swiss cantons, again with a focus on the wealthiest. The goal is to understand the role income and wealth taxes play on wealth concentration among the richest families in the long run.

“In my second strand of research, I study how people respond to tax incentives, for example by moving to an area with especially low income taxes, or by deciding to work more when income taxes decrease.”

Why did you decide to become a researcher?

“I first and foremost decided to become an economist. Ever since I can remember, I have been interested in what policies we put in place, how they affect people’s lives and how they influence the decisions they take. I studied Political Science and Economics and was intrigued by the tools economists use to analyse large amounts of data from surveys as well as administrative records, like your tax returns, or even ‘exotic’ data such as luminosity per square kilometre measured from space.

“After completing my Masters in Economics, I realized that the place where I could best continue analysing large data sets with statistical methods while at the same time finding answers to questions that address people’s well-being and policy decisions, was in academia. I decided to do a PhD and to continue my research during a postdoc.

“I have the luxury to set my own agenda and work on those research questions I find most interesting. And while it is a job in which people work long hours (9-10h/day are usual), it comes with some perks, too: I get to travel to conferences around the globe, which has taken me as far as Hawaii, and I obtained a fellowship to spend 3 semesters as a visiting researcher at UC Berkeley in California, where I was working with one of the stars in my field.”

Researching economy does not involve any ‘lab work’ – what is a typical day like in your research field?

“I spend a lot of the time in my office, analysing data, reading the literature in my field and on methods on how to analyse data, and writing my own research papers.

“My research is often co-authored with other economists; I have co-authors at LISER as well as abroad. Thanks to modern communication technologies it is has become easy to work with someone who is 10,000 km away.

“During summer and fall I usually go to a few conferences in Europe and the U.S. where I present my work. As a postdoc, I luckily don’t have too many administrative tasks so I can really focus on my research.”

For your PhD and Postdoc, you have mainly been analysing Switzerland. Why did you choose to expand your work to Luxembourg?

“I wanted to gain a new experience in Europe after living in the U.S. and I would like to extend my research on top incomes to cover Luxembourg. There is currently no research on top income and wealth shares in Luxembourg, a gap I would like to fill.

“For that, I need access to official statistics and administrative data, which is often easier when working for an institution within the country. So far, however, data access has turned out to be very difficult (if not to say impossible), something that has come a bit as a surprise, to be honest.

“I had thought that in a small country administrative hurdles would be smaller, yet there seems to be a reluctance to give researchers access to the data, even when working for a national research institute. Internationally, Luxembourg is often not seen as a representative economy and object of study because of its many peculiarities.

“If one still wants to contribute to the academic discussion and get good publications based on Luxembourgish data, one has to choose the research question carefully and it is crucial to have exclusive, high-quality data.

“I think for Luxembourg to remain an attractive research destination for economists, access to high-quality data is a must.”

What do you want to achieve during your career as an economist researcher?

“Of course, publications are important and I would like to have at least one or two publications in one of the ‘top five’ academic journals in economics over the upcoming years. Publications are the currency in this business, and the top journals are the gold-standard.

“But more importantly, I would like to become a renowned expert in my field in Switzerland and abroad and use my expertise to inform policy decisions. Ultimately, I would like my work to have a real impact on policy discussions and ideally policy decisions.”

“This shows the share of total income that goes to the richest 1% of all taxpayers each year in different countries over the past 100 years. Top incomes have been increasing very fast in the U.S. since the 1980s, leaving European countries behind. However, starting in the 1990s, top incomes also started to increase in Switzerland and Germany. One possible explanation for the different trends are income taxes. Some scholars argue that when taxes on high incomes were low, top earners have seen their pre-tax incomes rise substantially over time and vice versa. What is striking about Switzerland, is its relatively stable evolution from the 1930s until the 1990s.”
Source: Foellmi, Reto & Martínez, Isabel Z. “Volatile Top Income Shares in Switzerland? Reassessing the Evolution Between 1981 and 2010”, forthcoming in: The Review of Economics and Statistics.
“We find that the recent rise in top labour income shares in Switzerland corresponds to a period where stock market capitalization, that is, the worth of stocks registered and traded in the country, rose remarkably above the level we observe in most countries. It would be interesting to have a similar country, such as Luxembourg, where stock market capitalization in percent of GDP rose just as much, for comparison.” Source: Foellmi, Reto & Martínez, Isabel Z. “Volatile Top Income Shares in Switzerland? Reassessing the Evolution Between 1981 and 2010”, forthcoming in: The Review of Economics and Statistics.
Isabel Z. Martínez

About Spotlight on Young Researchers

Spotlight on Young Researchers is an FNR initiative to highlight early career researchers across the world who have a connection to Luxembourg. This article is the 18th in a series of around 25 articles, which will be published on a weekly basis. You can see more articles below as and when they are published.

Spotlight on Young Researchers: Bella Tsachidou

Excessive use of fertilisers in agriculture has led to nitrogen pollution, and calls for bio substitutes are getting louder. PhD candidate Bella Tsachidou from Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology (LIST) gathers scientific evidence on the benefits of biogas residues and their suitability as biofertilisers, while providing support for the modification of nitrogen-policies on European and global level.

Spotlight on Young Researchers: Antonio Ancora

In the current situation of legal uncertainty, PhD candidate Antonio Ancora’s research at the University of Luxembourg aims to improve tax certainty in the context of state aid investigation on Transfer Pricing transactions among multinational enterprises.

Spotlight on Young Researchers: Paul Johanns

Paul Johanns works in a research field one does not read about every day: knots. As part of his AFR PhD at the École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), the Luxembourg national combines high-precision model experiments, computation and theory to untangle the influence of topology on the mechanics of complex knots, particularly those used in surgical procedures.

Spotlight on Young Researchers: Understanding brain mechanisms behind eating disorders

Eating disorders affect up to 5% of people. At the University of Luxembourg, Dr Annika Lutz and Lynn Erpelding study the brain mechanisms that help form body image, and want to understand how eating disorders develop. Using a multidimensional approach, the team’s ultimate goal is to improve treatment for people suffering from eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa.

Spotlight on Young Researchers: Nathasia Mudiwa Muwanigwa

Growing up in Botswana and Zimbabwe, Nathasia Mudiwa Muwanigwa did not see science as a career option. Fast forward a few years: Nathasia is studying Parkinson’s disease as part of her PhD at the LCSB at the University of Luxembourg, and has co-founded a STEM initiative that was featured in Forbes.

Spotlight on Young Researchers: Claudio Petucco

Industry and research join forces on many fronts, including the sustainable use of natural resources. As part of his Industrial Fellowship between the Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology (LIST) and land use company Luxplan, Postdoc Claudio Petucco works on developing a decision support system for enhancing and assessing the provision of forest ecosystem services.

Spotlight on Young Researchers: Noémie Catherine Engel

Noémie Catherine Engel has just begun her researcher journey – and she has found her niche already: As part of her AFR PhD at the University of Bath, the Luxembourg national investigates the evolution of sex role traits in a small shorebird species in Cape Verde.

Spotlight On Young Researchers: Henderika de Vries

Are creative people better at regulating emotions, and are there cultural differences? This is one of the questions Henderika (Herie) de Vries wants to answer. Having already discovered that cultural differences impact the creative potential of children, the Dutch-Luxembourgish national hopes to understand more aspects of how our cultural circumstances can influence our capacity for creative thinking.

Spotlight on Young Researchers: Remko Nijzink

Climate change affects vegetation and water resources. In order to understand these changes, scientists use models – an abstract, mathematical representation of an ecological system. The challenge: Making accurate predictions under change, without ‘tuning’ models with data. We speak to Dutch national Remko Nijzink, Postdoc in the group of FNR ATTRACT Fellow Dr. Stan Schymanski at the Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology (LIST), about his modelling work and the importance of an open science approach.

Spotlight on Young Researchers: Anjali Sharma

In school, we are taught three states of matter: solid, liquid and gas. The focus of University of Luxembourg PhD candidate Anjali Sharma’s research lies between solid and liquid: liquid crystal. She studies them in unusual shapes that are no larger than the width of a human hair, yet they are considered as large by the scientists of the field. As part of her research, the Indian national got an opportunity for a rare experiment: Taking her research into a zero gravity environment.

Spotlight on Young Researchers: Pier Mario Lupinu

When one thinks of banks and financial institutions, the word ‘research’ may not come to mind. However, research has much to offer these institutions, for example new tools to help with delivering critical services. As part of his PhD at the University of Luxembourg, Italian national Pier Mario Lupinu researches issues related to post-resolution in banking and finance.

Spotlight on Young Researchers: Nanotechnology – a future big player in health

Divya Balakrishnan, Dipti Rani and Serena Rollo are women in science working in a field that could have a major impact on how health is managed: In the group of FNR ATTRACT Fellow César Pascual García at the Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology (LIST), the team works on developing sensors for biochemical applications focusing on medicine.

Spotlight on Young Researchers: Foni Raphaël Lebrun-Ricalens

Quantum computing is one of the hottest topics in physical sciences. As part of his AFR PhD at the University of Sussex, Luxembourg national Foni Raphaël Lebrun-Ricalens works on developing a quantum computer – a technology that has the potential to revolutionise computing. Recently, he was also asked to evaluate the science behind the ‘quantum realm’ in the final ‘Avengers’ film.

Spotlight on Young Researchers: Understanding our immune system

Stemming from Italy, Indonesia, Luxembourg, Portugal and Spain, the members of the Experimental & Molecular Immunology Group truly are an international team. In the group of FNR ATTRACT Fellow Prof Dr Dirk Brenner at the Luxembourg Institute of Health (LIH), the team of young researchers investigates different aspects of the immune system with one common goal: Understanding how our immune system is regulated by different mechanisms – and how this knowledge can be used to combat disease.

Spotlight on Young Researchers: Silvia Girardi

Silvia Girardi is a sociologist with an interest in studying policies that aim to contrast poverty. As part of her joint PhD at Luxembourg Institute of Socio-Economic Research (LISER) and KU Leuven, the Italian national looks at the social policies that support low-income households in Luxembourg, taking the perspectives of the citizens on the receiving end, and the social workers involved in implementation.

Spotlight on Young Researchers: Carole Lara Veiga de Sousa

Why can our bodies defend itself against some diseases but not others? This is something Carole Lara Veiga de Sousa has always been eager to understand. In the framework of her PhD at the Luxembourg Centre for Systems Biomedicine (LCSB) and Luxembourg Institute of Health (LIH), the Portuguese national took at closer look at the microglial cells – immune cells in the central nervous system – and what impact they have on the brain’s ability to fend of infections.

Spotlight on Young Researchers: Adham Ayman Al-Sayyad

Adham Ayman Al-Sayyad is a PhD researcher working on multidisciplinary cross-border project. In our article, we explore the Egyptian national’s research around the topic of laser beam joining; why his next step post-PhD would be to spend some time working in industry to understand his research topic from new angles; and his passion for bridging cultures to bring people together.

Spotlight on Young Researchers: Thomas Schaubroeck

Thomas Schaubroeck specialises in sustainability assessment of products. We speak to the Belgian national about the research he is undertaking in the framework of an Industrial Fellowship between the Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology (LIST) and company Tarkett; how working with industry differs from academia; and how he hopes his research can help industry steer toward a more sustainable future.

Spotlight on Young Researchers: Damien Brevers

Postdoc Damien Brevers has a passion for studying self-control abilities in humans. Having spent time in Belgium and the US building expertise in areas including clinical psychology, sport psychology and brain imaging, the Belgian national has just joined the University of Luxembourg and embarked on a project looking at gambling addiction in the age of online betting.

Spotlight on Young Researchers: Nature does it best

What is the connection between the gut of a termite and renewable energy? What binds them is anaerobic digestion, the process by which microorganisms break down biodegradable material without oxygen. We speak to four young researchers in the Biosystems and Bioprocessing Engineering group at the Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology (LIST) about how understanding the termite gut could help unlock the full potential of anaerobic digestion, and the associated benefits for green and cleantech.

Spotlight on Young Researchers: Jose-Luis Sanchez-Lopez

Jose-Luis Sanchez-Lopez works with multirotor aerial robots – drones. Despite being early in his research career, the Spanish national’s research is already taking off, having secured him several awards at international competitions. After completing his PhD in 2017, Jose-Luis set his sights on Luxembourg, where he works as a Postdoc at the SnT at the University of Luxembourg, with the goal of giving drones enough AI that they can safely operate autonomously in a range of environments.

Spotlight on Young Researchers: Ernesto Gargiulo

Ernesto Gargiulo has always had a curious and inquisitive disposition, which as a child saw him spending hours outdoors, in a quest to discover. At University, Ernesto’s attention turned to oncology. Set on applying and strengthening his knowledge, the Italian national embarked on a PhD at the Luxembourg Institute of Health (LIH), where he works on characterising exosomes, small extracellular vesicles, linked to cancer development, progression and chemo-resistance.

Spotlight on Young Researchers: Thomas Elliot

When Thomas Elliot (Tom) cycled from Indonesia to London, he witnessed many people living in hardship. Motivated to research how consumption affects social and environmental justice in a bid to help reduce the hardship witnessed, the New Zealand national applied for an open PhD position at the Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology (LIST), where he now works on a project that fuses urban metabolism and ecosystem services.

Spotlight on Young Researchers: Maciej Piotr Chrzanowski

Maciej Piotr Chrzanowski never thought he would become a researcher, but a successful attempt at applying for a PhD changed all of that, and the Polish national found himself moving to Luxembourg. Now in the 3rd year of his AFR-PPP PhD, Maciej is embedded both at the University of Luxembourg and in R&D Application Department of steel manufacturing corporation ArcelorMittal, where he works on development of new solutions for structures.

Spotlight on Young Researchers: Max Hilaire Wolter

During his Bachelor studies in physics and photovoltaics at the University of Luxembourg, Max Hilaire Wolter was exposed to live-action research for the first time. The experience left such a positive impression that Max proactively sought out to return to the same lab for a PhD after completing his Master’s studies abroad. We spoke to the Luxembourg national about why research is fun, solar cells and the importance of science outreach.

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