Xiaowei Xu

Published on 20 July 2022

Senior Research Economist

What first attracted you to the IFS?

I was attracted by the opportunity to do academic research alongside fast-paced policy analysis, all to a very high level of rigour. Having worked in consulting for a number of years, I knew I wanted to work somewhere where I could develop my own research agenda and specialise in the areas I care about.

Which projects are you working on at the moment?

I’m working on several projects broadly related to labour markets and inequality.  I’m just wrapping up a policy paper on ‘solo self-employment’ (self-employment without employees), where we present evidence that its remarkable growth in recent decades partly reflects poor employment opportunities. As part of the Deaton Review of Inequalities, I’m co-authoring a chapter on geographic inequalities with a professor at LSE, looking at patterns of labour market inequalities across the UK and the role of migration and sorting in driving those disparities. On the more academic side, I’m working on adapting a new ‘bunching’ method to estimate the impact of the National Living Wage on employment and wages. I’m also involved in a new project that seeks to quantify the extent of skills mismatch during the Covid crisis, combining vacancy data with data on furlough and layoffs, with the aim of eventually studying the effect of skills mismatch on people’s long-term outcomes.

What kind of things do you do during a typical day at work?

The work really depends on the stage of the project. Each project typically involves writing Stata code, iterating results with colleagues, reading around the topic, drafting reports and presentations, and often doing some media work like giving briefings to journalists or doing interviews. I like to have multiple projects at different stages to keep things varied. We also regularly attend seminars where researchers present and discuss their work.

What do you particularly enjoy about the job?

I enjoy the mix of long-term academic research and policy work, which tends to be much more responsive and fast-paced. The combination is really unique to the IFS. I really appreciate being able to pursue my own research interests and ideas, and working with people who are incredibly intelligent and enthusiastic about their work.

How has your career progressed so far?

I joined IFS after working at McKinsey, the Gates Foundation and in economic consulting. I suppose I was a rather atypical recruit, but I think there are now more and more people who join IFS from other fields. I came in as a Research Economist and was promoted to Senior Research Economist a year later. Since joining I have worked on a wide range of projects, co-written funding applications and been interviewed on TV and radio.

What have you learned from working here?

I have learned a huge amount from working at IFS – from improving my econometrics and coding skills to becoming better at thinking through research ideas. The experience of working with and constantly being challenged by brilliant colleagues is really invaluable. I have learned a lot about public policy, not just in my own area but also through interactions with colleagues in other sectors.

How would you describe the working environment?

It’s a very collaborative and open place to work. You’re given a lot of freedom, but also a lot of support – people are always happy to talk through a problem or share ideas. Accuracy is highly valued and you’re encouraged to take time to refine results, both in academic and policy work. There is very little hierarchy and everyone’s contribution is valued.

Education and profile

MPhil Economics, University of Oxford, 2014

BA Philosophy, Politics and Economics (First class), University of Oxford, 2011

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