Interests: I am an economist working at the University of Oxford. My research interests are the growth and distribution of living standards globally.
Most of my research is concerned with inclusive and sustainable growth. These interests go back to my studies: In addition to economics I studied philosophy and geoscience. I have a BSc in geoscience, a BA and an MA in philosophy, an MSc in economics, and a doctorate from the University of Innsbruck, Austria.
Life: Born in 1983 in Kirchheimbolanden in Germany I grew up in the same town with my two sisters and my brother. It is a small town – with forests towards close-by France and wine yards towards the river Rhine. Much of my time I spent playing the guitar in a band with friends.
For my studies I moved to Berlin and later to Innsbruck in the Tyrolean Alps. Innsbruck was a great place to study: The teaching in both philosophy and economics happened in small groups and the professors were fantastic teachers. Geoscience was a very broad course and had the advantage that we traveled a lot and spend quite some time out in the field.
Throughout my studies I traveled as much as I could. We went to the Himalayas (crossed the Dolpo region), I traveled up the Nile (from Cairo southwards across Lake Nasser into Nubia. Further to Khartoum and then up the Blue Nile to the Abyssinian highlands. And then from Addis Ababa through the rift valley finally to Kenya), and I crossed the Andes from East to West on foot and bicycle. I financed this by working during my studies, for the longest time as a bicycle tour guide in Europe for many years.
During my studies (in 2011) I spent some months at the Instituto de Estudos do Trabalho e Sociedade in Rio de Janeiro and then at the Vienna University of Economics and Business working with Jesus Crespo Cuaresma. During these research stays I was working on my dissertation on the political determinants of income inequality. Because of this research Sir Tony Atkinson invited me in 2012 to come and work with him at the University of Oxford. Since then I am working here.
Media: I think it is my responsibility as a researcher to bring my work to the audience that pays – through taxes – for this research. This is one of the reasons why I am publishing open-access web publications (see below).
Interviews and coverage of my work in the English-speaking press can be found in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Forbes, Slate, Vox, Foreign Policy, Thomson Reuters, National Public Radio, The Guardian, Quartz, Bloomberg, Vice, the World Economic Forum, Business Insider, and The Financial Times.
In the international press interviews and coverage can be found in La Presse (Canada & France), Neue Zürcher Zeitung, Berner Zeitung (Switzerland), ORF, Kurier (Austria), El País (Spain), Svenska Dagbladet (Sweden), Veja (Brazil), Polimaty (Poland), Aftenposten (Norway), Blic (Serbia), Chabad (Israel), NRC Handelsblad, Scientias (Dutch), Jutarnji (Croatia), Rusplt (Russian), La Nación (Argentina), RPP (Peru), Kushima (Japan), Berlingske (Denmark), Vice (Italy), Hürriyet DN (Turkey), Les Echos, Rue 89, Atlantico, Contrepoints (France), Altavoz, RPP (Peru), Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Bild, der Freitag, Brand Eins, ARD, Die Zeit, Süddeutsche Zeitung, and Der Spiegel (Germany) among others.
Here are some portraits of my work in the recent press:
I’ve been on the podcast Data.Stories – hosted by Enrico Bertini and Moritz Stefaner – and talked about data visualisation and the limits of quantitative information; here is a portrait of my work by the University of Oxford; here is an earlier portrait; an interview about development in German.
The entire online media coverage of OurWorldInData – several hundred links – is collected here.
My writing has appeared in The Guardian, the Washington Post, Vox, and other media outlets.
- Here is my website at the Oxford Martin School.
- And here is my website at the Institute for New Economic Thinking.
Consultancy work: I do some some consultancy work. Among other institutions I have consulted the World Bank and the Global Fund.
I publish my work in two ways: through open-access web publications and through academic journals.
Open-access online publications
Our World in Data
www.OurWorldinData.org is a web publication that tells the social, economic, and environmental history of our world up to the present day – based on empirical data and visualized in interactive graphs and maps.
The web publication shows how living standards around the world have changed and covers a wide range of topics: Trends in health, food provision, the growth and distribution of incomes, violence, rights, wars, education, environmental changes and many other aspects are empirically analyzed and visualized in this freely available web publication.
For each topic the quality of the data is discussed and, by pointing the visitor to the sources, this website is also a database of databases. Covering all of these aspects in one resource makes it possible to understand how the observed long-run trends are interlinked.
In 2011 I started working on this project. Here is a brief interview with Oxford University on the beginnings and the motivation. It is a long-term project that I am continuously working on.
Chartbook of Economic Inequality
Another web publication focuses on economic inequality: In the Chartbook of Economic Inequality my colleagues Tony Atkinson and Salvatore Morelli and I present the empirical evidence on how income and wealth inequality has changed over the last decades.
The Chartbook of Economic Inequality covers 25 countries – often over the course of more than one hundred years. For each country a chart shows how different dimensions of economic inequality have changed over time.
The SDG-Tracker is the first publication that allows whether the world is making progress towards reaching the Sustainable Development Goals that the United Nations have agreed on.
Published journal articles
Nolan, B., Roser, M., Thewissen, S. (2018) – GDP per capita versus median household income: What gives rise to divergence over time? In Review of Income and Wealth. 17 May 2018. https://doi.org/10.1111/roiw.12362
Abstract: Divergence between the evolution of GDP per capita and the income of a “typical” household as measured in household surveys is giving rise to a range of serious concerns, especially in the USA. This paper investigates the extent of that divergence and the factors that contribute to it across 27 OECD countries, using data from OECD National Accounts and the Luxembourg Income Study. While GDP per capita has risen faster than median household income in most of these countries over the period these data cover, the size of that divergence varied very substantially, with the USA a clear outlier. The paper distinguishes a number of factors contributing to such a divergence, and finds wide variation across countries in the impact of the various factors. Further, both the extent of that divergence and the role of the various contributory factors vary widely over time for most of the countries studied. These findings have serious implications for the monitoring and assessment of changes in household incomes and living standards over time.
Thewissen, S., Kenworthy, L., Nolan, B., Roser, M., Smeeding, T. (2018) “Rising income inequality and living standards in OECD countries: How does the middle fare?“, Journal of Income Distribution, Vol 26, No 2 (2018). Also available as LIS Working Paper Series no. 656.
Abstract: Income inequality has increased in a number of the rich democratic nations over the past generation. We examine whether this has reduced income growth for middle income households. Using LIS, OECD and WID data, we show how median household incomes and income inequality have evolved between 1980 and 2013, and we analyse whether these trends are related. Growth in median incomes is negatively associated with changes in the Gini but not with changes in top income shares. Economic growth is strongly associated with growth in median incomes, although it does not seem to fully transmit.
Sterck, O., Roser, M., Ncube, M., Thewissen, S. (2018) – Allocation of development assistance for health: Is the predominance of national income justified? In Health Policy and Planning. https://doi.org/10.1093/heapol/czw173. Volume 33, Issue suppl_1, 1 February 2018, Pages i14–i23, Available as an open-access publication at the journal’s website here.
Our summary of our findings is available at VoxEU here.
Abstract: Major donors heavily rely on GNI per capita to allocate development assistance for health (DAH). This paper questions this paradigm by analyzing the determinants of health outcomes using cross-sectional data from 99 countries in 2012. We use disability-adjusted life years (Group I) per capita as our main indicator for health outcomes. We consider four primary variables: GNI per capita, institutional capacity, individual poverty and the epidemiological surroundings. We construct a health poverty line of 10·89 international-$ per day, which measures the minimum level of income an individual needs to have access to basic healthcare. We take the contagious nature of communicable diseases into account, by estimating the extent to which the population health in neighboring countries (the epidemiological surroundings) affects health outcomes. We apply a spatial two-stage least-squares model to mitigate the risks of reverse causality, and use additional IV estimations as sensitivity tests. Overall we find that GNI is not a significant predictor of health outcomes once other factors are controlled for.
Felix Pretis and Max Roser (2017) – Carbon Dioxide Emission-Intensity in Climate Projections: Comparing the Observational Record to Socio-Economic Scenarios. In Energy Volume 135, pages 718–725, September 2017. Available as an open-access publication at the journal’s website here.
Oxford University Science Blog on the paper: here.
Abstract: The large span of long-run projected temperature changes in climate projections does not predominately originate from uncertainty across climate models; instead it is the wide range of different global socio-economic scenarios and the implied energy production that results in high uncertainty about climate change. It is therefore important to assess the observational tracking of these scenarios. For the first time observations over two decades are available against which the initial sets of socio-economic scenarios used in IPCC reports can be assessed. Here we compare these socio-economic scenarios created in both 1992 and 2000 against the recent observational record to investigate the coupling of economic growth and fossil-fuel CO2 emissions. We find that the growth rate in fossil fuel CO2 emission intensity – fossil fuel CO2 emissions per GDP – over the 2000s exceeds the projections of all main emission scenarios. Proposing a method to disaggregate differences in global growth rates to country-by-country contributions, we find that the relative discrepancy is driven by high growth rates in Asia and Eastern Europe, in particular in Russia and China. The growth of emission intensity over the 2000s highlights the relevance of unforeseen local shifts in projections on a global scale.
Roser, Max and Jesus Crespo Cuaresma (2016) – Why is Income Inequality Increasing in the Developed World? In Review of Income and Wealth – Volume 62, Issue 1; March 2016; Pages 1–27
Abstract: We address empirically the factors affecting the dynamics of income inequality among industrialized economies. Using a panel for 32 developed countries spanning the last four decades, our results indicate that the predictions of the Stolper–Samuelson theorem concerning the effects of international trade on income inequality find support in the data if we concentrate on imports from developing countries as a trade measure, as theory would imply. We find that democratization, the interaction of technology and education, and changes in the relative power of labor unions affect inequality dynamics robustly.
Jesus Crespo Cuaresma and Max Roser (2012) – Borders Redrawn: Measuring the Statistical Creation of International Trade. In The World Economy – Volume 35, Issue 7; July 2012; Pages 946–952
Abstract: In this note, we quantify how much of the increase in the volume of international trade that took place since 1945 is attributed to the reclassification of within-country trade to international trade owing to changes in national boundaries. We do so by imposing the territorial delimitations corresponding to 1946 to the current trade flow data, thus quantifying the volume of international trade that would not have been labelled international given national boundaries right after the end of World War II. Our results show that the effect of ‘boundary redrawing’ corresponds roughly to 1 per cent of the total volume of international trade. If colonial trade had been statistically considered to be within-country (within-empire) trade instead of international trade, the independence of colonies would have raised this effect to approximately 3 per cent of total trade.
In edited volumes
Roser (2018) – The short history of global living conditions and why it matters that we know it. In Current Debates in Comparative Politics, Second Edition. Edited by J. Tyler Dickovick and Jonathan Eastwood. January 2018. Oxford University Press.
Sterck, O., Roser, M., Thewissen, S. – Turning the paradigm of aid allocation on its head.
Abstract: How should aid be allocated among countries? Past research efforts to answer this question followed three steps: (1) the definition of an objective function; (2) the characterization of its functional form; and (3) the estimation of its parameters. Each step has been heavily criticized. While thought provoking, all attempts to refine the objective function and its functional form have increased complexity, overburdening the already too fragile parameterization step. We argue that a complete rethinking and reversal of this paradigm is needed. We start by examining what can be estimated with “sufficient” credibility. We then define five key properties or axioms which are justified in terms of fairness, proportionality, and encouragement domestic investments. Finally, we combine these elements into an allocation formula. The framework is applied to the allocation of development assistance for health.
Nolan, B., Roser, M., Thewissen, S. (2016) “Models, regimes, and the evolution of middle incomes in OECD countries“, LIS Working Paper Series no. 660. Also available as Oxford INET Working Paper Series no. 2016-01
Some of my recent public writing:
Daten gegen Armut – in Die Zeit; December 2017 – coauthored with Johannes Haushofer, Dina Pomeranz, and Frank Schilbach.
‘Seeing human lives in spreadsheets’ – Hans Rosling (1948–2017) – British Medical Journal (BMJ) – Opinion; February 14 2017
Why do we not hear the good news? – Washington Post; December 2016.
Stagnating median incomes despite economic growth: Explaining the divergence in 27 OECD countries – with Stefan Thewissen and Brian Nolan; VoxEU; August 2016.
Proof that life is getting better for humanity, in 5 charts – Vox; December 2016.
The US lags far behind its peers on “inclusive” economic growth – with Stefan Thewissen Vox; February 2017.
How did the UK economy do since joining the EU? – A letter with Sir David Hendry and Doyne Farmer published in The Times (link is to the republished version since The Times is not publicly accessible; June 2016.
Income inequality: poverty falling faster than ever but the 1% are racing ahead – The Guardian; March 2015.