Solving Economic and Social Problems with Big Data

ECN425 Solving Economic and Social Problems with Big Data

Spring 2023

  • Topics

    How do globalization, automation, pollution, and artificial intelligence affect inequality? What is the impact of immigration on local employment? What are the consequences of an aging population? What are the economic and social consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic or environmental regulations? These questions relate to timely challenges with a clear need for data driven policy recommendations.

    ECN425 will show how data can be used to understand and address some of the most important current economic and social problems. The course will give students an introduction to frontier research and policy applications in economics in a manner that makes the course suitable both for students starting a master degree in economics, as well as for students exploring economics as a supplement to their profile. The topics are guided by the UN sustainable development goals and provide an economist’s perspective on issues including equality of opportunity, work, education, migration, and pollution. In the context of these topics, the course will also provide a non-technical introduction to basic methods in data analysis, including causal inference and machine learning. The course will include guest lectures and discussions with leading researchers and practitioners who use big data in real-world applications.

    The course is divided into five broad themes:

    • Demographic change
    • Inequality
    • Pollution
    • Globalization
    • Technological change

  • Learning outcome


    Upon completion of the course, students will:

    • recognize how data can be used to understand and address current economic and social challenges and distinguish between different analysis techniques
    • advance their understanding for how policy decisions come about and how sustainability is considered in political decision-making
    • be able to interpret the results of empirical methods for testing the implications of theoretical economic models and evaluating policies


    Upon completion of the course, students will:

    • be able to analyze the impact of various public interventions
    • be able to analyze the economic and social consequences of large economic shocks as pandemics, resource booms, armed conflicts, or climate change regulations

    General Competence

    Upon completion of the course, students will:

    • be able to debate economic and social challenges such as inequality, intergenerational mobility, population aging, international migration, and pollution
    • be able to evaluate consequences of government policies

  • Teaching

    Plenary lectures, labs, videos, and assignments.

  • Recommended prerequisites

    ECN402 - Econometrics.

  • Credit reduction due to overlap

    This course is a continuation of SAM478, and you will not get credit for both courses.

  • Compulsory Activity


  • Assessment

    The final grade will be based on four assignments in groups of 2-3 students (50%) and a final written 3-hour individual home exam (50%).

    The students will have two weeks to complete each of the assignments. 

    Language: English.

  • Grading Scale


  • Computer tools


  • Literature

    Selected articles will be distributed on Canvas/Legato.



ECTS Credits
Teaching language

Spring. Offered spring 2023.

Course responsible

Professor Aline Bütikofer, Department of Economics (main course responsible)

Assistant Professor Andreas Haller, Department of Economics