In conversation with our young researchers: Dr Martín Fernández Sánchez

09 July 2021

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Migration issues

The number of international migrants has increased remarkably during the past decades, rising from 85 million in the 1970s to more than 280 million nowadays. The prospects are that migrant flows will grow even faster in the near future due to climate change and conflicts. As a result, there is more and more interest among policymakers and society to understand who migrates and why, the consequences for both sending and receiving countries, and how to design better policies that could increase the gains from migration while reducing its potential costs.

What are the long-term consequences of migration for the hosting and sending communities? How cultural norms are conveyed though migration? What is the role of migrant networks and information in shaping migration decisions or migrants’ economic performance?

As part of the Crossing Borders Research Programme of the Luxembourg Institute of Socio-Economic Research (LISER), postdoc Martín Fernández-Sánchez examines migration issues through the lenses of history. Adopting a long-term / historical approach, the economist reassesses existing questions with new data and methods while exploring novel questions, which were impossible to address until now.

An interdisciplinary approach to tackle migration issues

Focusing on migration issues, Martín Fernández-Sánchez works at the intersection of development, history, and cultural economics. As such, the economist relies on major historical episodes that have particular features making them a perfect laboratory to examine broad questions in a causal manner. In other words, he looks for particular settings that create so-called natural experiments in which certain individuals or communities are quasi-randomly exposed to the aspect studied. In history, the post researcher is looking to a setting that mimics as close as possible a randomised control trial, such that some individuals are being “treated” and others part of a comparison group.  These “natural experiments” often originate because of regulations, changes in policies, displacements of people due to wars or natural disasters.

The Spanish national researcher describes his approach as interdisciplinary. Indeed, the type of questions he explores means relying on other social sciences such as history, sociology, anthropology, etc. Such an approach not only nurtures his knowledge of the context under study but also guides him asking the right questions, building a conceptual framework that could help understand the results and explore the mechanisms underneath, and to have a better idea of the subtleties that may make the findings hold (or not) in other settings. 

In practice, he combines different sources of data and methodologies. For instance, he brings together historical data coming from a variety of sources and contemporary administrative and survey data. When it comes to methodology, he relies on the most rigorous techniques of causal inference borrowed from econometrics to establish causal links.

My research examines migration issues through the lenses of history, which offers several advantages and has the potential to challenge current views/conclusions as well as to inform and reshape migration policies. Moreover, I not only consider economic aspects of migration but also examine other dimensions such as how they can shape cultural norms and political outcomes, as these may lead to changes in our societies that persist long after the arrival/departure of migrants. Studying past migration episodes helps us to better understand current ones and to the design the best policies for the future.

Dr Martín Fernández-Sánchez

Research as a revelation

The economist’s first approximation to research occurred during his last year of bachelor at the University of Vigo. As he got more and more interested in economics and passionate about research, a career in academia became clear to him. Miraculously, as he describes his journey, Martín Fernández-Sánchez earned a grant from a private foundation to do a Master in Economic Research in Cambridge before joining the Paris School of Economics to follow a Master in Public Policy and Development and eventually complete his PhD.

I think that my studies in economics (which raised my awareness about large disparities in income and living conditions across countries) together with my personal experiences deeply shaped the way I see life. I came to realise that where you are born is the most important factor determining your future opportunities and international migration is the great leveller that could help improve the life of millions of people around the globe.

Dr Martín Fernández-Sánchez

Why Luxembourg as a research destination?

To Martín Fernández-Sánchez, “Luxembourg has created a very dynamic environment in which people are eager to share ideas and collaborate to exciting projects. Similarly, there are many funding opportunities that can be pivotal depending on the needs of your specific research. Finally, the position of Luxembourg at the heart of Europe is very advantageous, making it very easy to reach other research hubs in Europe such as Paris or London.”

I chose Luxembourg for a number of reasons. First, because of its current research excellence and the great prospects looking forward. Both at LISER and the University of Luxembourg there are excellent researchers working on migration issues and there is a clear ambition to keep bringing great scholars, finance frontier researcher, and support research activities. Another attractive feature of Luxembourg is that it offers everything one could ask any major European city and, at the same time, it feels very close to nature. I really enjoy this dualism and balance between a cosmopolitan and a laid-off life.

Dr Martín Fernández-Sánchez

Interdisciplinarity and collaboration

Belonging to the Crossing Borders Research Programme led by Frédéric Docquier, Martín Fernández-Sánchez is currently collaborating with other researchers on a project seeking to understand how access to information affects domestic migration in Africa. He is also involved in a project assessing the influence of migrants’ skills and networks on their economic performance in collaboration with Frédéric Docquier and Fabio Mariani from UCLouvain.

LISER is quite of a unique place as it gathers together social scientists from different disciplines (such as economics, geography, and others) and strongly encourages collaboration among them. This interdisciplinarity is a great asset as very often, there are particular technical needs or tools that certain colleagues may have expertise on and that help us progress much faster. Similarly, people with other backgrounds tend to look at issues from a different angle, which contributes to make our research better.

Dr Martín Fernández-Sánchez

Crossing Borders Research Programme at a glance

Assess historical and recent cross-border flows and understand their root drivers

Use innovative sources of data to study the interplay between different forms of mobility

Analyse the economic and societal consequences of migrant flows for all parties concerned

Provide stakeholders and the civil society with databases and expert analyses that help understanding migration flows and the consequences of policy actions

Develop tools to help policy decision-makers maximize the gains and/or minimize the cost of current and future migrations

Build projection tools to anticipate future movements

Contribute to the training of PhD researchers on these topics.

More about LISER Crossing Borders Research Programme

About living in Luxembourg

The researcher sees the country as very diverse and international. He particularly likes the cultural scene and how close we can be to nature.

For a music lover as myself, I must say that the music scene in Luxembourg is pretty amazing, with places like Philharmonie, Rockhal, den Atelier, Kulturfabrik, and many others.

Dr Martín Fernández-Sánchez

More about Martín Fernández-Sánchez

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