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Alumni Impact Highlight - Dr Nathan Deutscher

12 April 2021
Dr Nathan Deutscher speaking at the 2020 SRWF Secretaries Dinner

Nathan’s research explores intergenerational mobility and economic inequality over a person’s life course. His research has been used to inform the review of JobKeeper and JobSeeker, and other policy responses to the economic shocks from COVID-19. The data sets which he contributed to linking and building are now highly sought after assets for research and policymaking.

Nathan has been interested in conducting research ever since his undergraduate degree, and rediscovered his passion, after a number of years at Treasury, when he saw the Sir Roland Wilson scholarship program on offer.

Nathan was a Department Liaison Officer for then Treasurer Wayne Swan, working on economic inequality at a time where there was a wave of research in the United States using tax data to look at intergenerational mobility in the public economic space.

Nathan was acutely aware of the topic’s importance in informing much of what was then current Australian economic policy. After some early discussions with the Australian Tax Officer, it was serendipitous that Nathan’s proposed research aligned well with the research vision of other ATO leaders, which really helped to get his scholarship off the ground.

“The scholarship encourages you to be incredibly ambitious, which has its clear risks. But with return to the service built into the scholarship program, you don’t have to play it safe in your research goals. The scholarship encourages you to take moonshots if you can prove they have practical and enduring worth to the community and the nation.”

As a current policy practitioner, Nathan emphasised that in isolation, a PhD doesn’t tell you that any particular policy should be taken up or down. Rather, PhD research establishes a foundation for understanding the state of play in Australia in your respective field, so you can return to service with acumen and experience to inform the policy narrative.

On his return to the public service, Nathan found significant support from his agency in adjusting back into his role.

“Treasury were terrific. I was picked up by areas that have access to amazing real-time data including data from the tumultuous year that was 2020.”

“COVID-19 has really brought a focus on the value of this data in responding to economic shock, and luckily I’ve been able to draw on insights from my research to help  with my work on the JobKeeper and JobSeeker review.”

One of the main benefits of the practical and academic experience is how to approach policy formulation with an altered, fresh perspective.

In researching for his PhD prior to the onset of COVID, Nathan had been looking at the effects on intergenerational mobility when graduating in a recession.

When COVID hit, Nathan knew that his research had significant currency for his agency’s policy response, and reached for his drawer.

In discussing the extent to which his study and scholarship have contributed to his career goals, Nathan highlighted the value of sitting at the intersection of academia and policy.

“I’d say sometimes it can be hard to not view a career in the APS through the traditional lens, but I’ve found that since returning to Treasury and moving to the ATO after my scholarship, it’s so clear how much value it adds to my policy work."

I’m extremely grateful that I can work half the week at the office and then come to ANU and work on my research. I want to bridge the two together as best as I possibly can, and also help other people carve out a similar experience for the betterment of their teams and agencies too.

Nathan’s research has been recognised across the public service and internationally.

In 2020, Nathan won the ANU Ian Castles Award for his outstanding contributions to public policy in Australia, and the Life Course working paper prize for best contribution to scholarship on children and families over the life course.

Additionally, Nathan’s work has been cited internationally by leading academics in the field and he has had the opportunity to contribute to multiple governments and not-for-profit conferences across Australia and internationally.

“It’s thrilling to be part of the conversation. In addition to the immediate policy impact, the nature of the work lends itself to further policy discussion in this research field. I’m excited to be building a team in Treasury that’s doing this kind of work, and to be thinking intently about what helped me succeed as a researcher, to help people I work with achieve this too.”


Dr Nathan Deutscher PhD '19 - Department of The Treasury

Intergenerational Mobility in Australia

Nathan’s research examined intergenerational mobility in Australia – the extent to which economic advantage or disadvantage is passed from parents to children. His work was motivated by the perennial interest in equality of opportunity in policy debate, and an explosion in international research that had yet to be reflected in Australia.

Nathan has been one of a succession of scholars to work with the Australia Taxation Office to build the administrative data available for policy research, and partnered with them to develop Australia’s first population-level intergenerational dataset. His research with this data has been published in leading economics journals such as the American Economic Journal: Applied Economics.

Since returning to Treasury, Nathan’s experience applying leading econometric techniques to administrative data has seen him co-author numerous Treasury working papers on weak wages growth, labour market dynamism and the effects of graduating in a recession. His work, and that of the team he has helped build within Treasury, has also informed the JobKeeper review and the response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Sir Roland Wilson Foundation is a partnership between The Australian National University, Charles Darwin University and the Australian Public Service.