Meet the Cluster Community: Sebastian Findeisen

1. Why are you studying inequality?

Put differently, I am drawn to studying not inequality in outcomes per se, but how we can do better in providing equality of opportunity. I try to understand the barriers and structural factors, esp. in the labor market, which make it so hard for some people to escape poverty, unemployment and "bad" jobs. I consider it my mission as a social scientist and economist to identify policies and solutions which improve equality of opportunity.

2. What are you working on?

At the moment, I am particularly excited about two brand new large-scale projects. One studies how better public transport can help young people from disadvantaged neighborhoods to better fulfill their potential in the labor market by making it easier for them to reach well-paying jobs at attractive firms. The other focuses on the role of housing, especially how building more (affordable) housing helps low-income families to live in better neighborhoods which provide better access to stable and lucrative work opportunities. It is the natural cycle of a researcher’s life that one is typically most excited about new projects :). Typically and also in this case, I work with large administrative data sets and therefore, many projects take years to complete. This goes against my more impatient nature — I avoid a queue at the Mensa or Campus Cafe whenever I can — but typically the hard work and patience is worth it.

3. How did you end up here?

The hard work of being awarded the Cluster was already done by my colleagues before I arrived at Konstanz. So I was in a very comfortable position to simply join as a PI in 2020. I am hoping and trying to actively contribute to the mission of the cluster and its community, as good as I can. Also the coffee is among the best on campus, which draws me to cluster area very frequently.

4. Recent highlight?

One highlight was seeing that the campus went back to life this semester. First, I was delighted to see the students back. Second, as a researcher I am a strong believer that spontaneous interactions are crucial for motivation and inspiration. At least this is my personal experience. 

5. Dream project?

In Germany, we are really lacking behind in having a decent understanding of social mobility (across generations) compared to the US, Sweden, Italy, Canada, Chile, and many other countries. Of course, we know from small-scale data sets that parental income shapes kids’ outcomes. But the data we have is way too small and coarse to say something about the opportunities that different neighborhoods provide, for example. This is a real pity, since Germany has so many interesting and unique institutions like a large vocational training sector, early tracking in school, relatively strong wage compression through unions, affordable housing policies (Sozialer Wohnungsbau), a country which was divided in half for 40 years etc. Everybody has opinions about these policies and institutions. But truthfully, we are really in the dark how these institutions shape equality of opportunity. So it would be dream and goldmine to have this data (while at the same time it also haunts me and gives me nightmares that we don’t).

Sebastian Findeisen is Professor of Economic Policy at the Department of Economics at the University of Konstanz and PI in the cluster project "Digitalization, Automation and the Future of Work in Post-Industrial Welfare States". His research interests include labor markets, globalization and digitalization.