Prof. dr. Joost de Laat

Applied Economics

More people are better educated, consuming more, in greater health, and living longer today than at any point in human history. However, many global challenges remain, the health of the planet one of them, and education, wealth, health, and other dimensions of human well-being are still distributed very unequally. I am an applied micro-economist interested in understanding the drivers of these inequalities and the policy- and behavioral options to address these, particularly in low- and middle income countries. My work has straddled research, policy, and teaching, sometimes in projects that combine all three, and often in multidisciplinary teams.


As of 2018, I hold the Chair of Global Economic Challenges at the Utrecht School of Economics, and am currently also directing the Utrecht Centre for Global Challenges. This is a multidisciplinary platform where researchers, teachers, and societal stakeholders connect, experiment, and seek to confront global challenges in transformative ways. We do this through a combination of projects, transdisciplinary education, and public engagement. I have also been a member of the Utrecht University Open Science Platform.


My current research agenda is focused on addressing two global challenges: ensuring disadvantaged children have the same (early) education opportunities as everyone else, and promoting environmental sustainability. Much of it is through primary data collection, including field experiments, lab-in-the-field, and survey research, with ongoing work in Kenya, Uganda, Nigeria, and Bulgaria. All of it is team work.


Is this research influencing policy or practice? Sometimes. For example, recently the government of Bulgaria adopted a new law to make kindergartens free of charge for the poorest 40% of children. This new policy was informed and influenced by a large scale field experiment involving 5000+ children, many poor Bulgarian Roma children, in 236 communities, in collaboration with fellow researchers, the Trust for Social Achievement, the Ministry of Education, the World Bank, and 23 local NGOs.    


I am also trying to connect practice to research. For example, I am coordinating with several colleagues a new academic series called "Effective Delivery of Integrated Interventions in Early Childhood: Innovations in Evidence Use, Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning". Mainly practitioners implementing early childhood interventions share perspectives on monitoring, evaluation, and learning in practice.   


Furthermore, as part of a new joint effort between the Network of Impact Evaluation Researchers Africa (NIERA) and our Centre, I am collaborating with academics from across East Africa to support them develop university courses and curricula on impact evaluation methods. Longer-term, and taking inspiration from the 2019 Nobel prizes in economics, the goal is to expand the use of experimental methods in support of sustainable development.  


Before joining Utrecht University, I supported Porticus, a global philanthropy, as director for Learning and Evaluation, and worked with the World Bank as Senior Economist in its Human Development team for Eastern Europe and Central Asia. I also managed the World Bank’s Strategic Impact Evaluation Fund (SIEF), a program that aims to influence policy making in (early childhood) education, health, social protection, and WASH through solid scientific evidence. Before that I held academic positions as Assistant Professor of Economics at the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQÀM) and as postdoctoral fellow at the Harvard University economics department.


As for my studies: in 2005 I defended my PhD in Economics at Brown University, focused on gender norms and inequalities, based in part on field research among migrants moving to Nairobi's (Kenya) informal settlements and research on working couples in OECD countries. Before my PhD, a Thomas J. Watson Fellowship enabled me to travel to Kenya, India, Nepal, Mexico and Norway to explore how pastoralists are coping with globalization. This year of travel followed a liberal arts undergraduate study at St. Lawrence University, in upstate New York, which opened my appreciation of a multi-disciplinary perspective to understand and confront global challenges.

Global Economic Challenges