Milan van den Heuvel

Data Science - Causality - Socioeconomics

Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Ghent University
Economist in Residence at BNP Paribas Fortis
Please see my full academic CV below

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I am a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Economics department of Ghent University and the Co-Chairholder of the BNP Paribas Fortis Research Chair: "Models for a changing world.".    

I obtained the title "Joint Ph.D. in Physics and Economics" in 2019 for my thesis titled "Addressing socioeconomic challenges with micro-level trace data".

My research focusses on designing and applying new methodology on the edge of causal inference and machine learning to find relevant answer in data that empower people/companies/governments to make the right decisions.


2020/now - Economist in Residence

  @ Center of Excellence Analytics and Artificial Intelligence, BNP Paribas Fortis

2019/now - Postdoctoral Research Fellow

  @ Department of Economics, Ghent University


2015/2019 - Predoctoral Research Fellow Physics and Economics

  @ Department of Physics and Astronomy, Department of Economics, Ghent University

2010/2015 - B.Sc and M.Sc. Physics and Astronomy

  @ Faculty of Sciences, Ghent University; Thesis

  Research Visits

2016 - CCP games, Reykjavik, Iceland

2017 - Media Lab, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

2017 - CCP games, Reykjavik, Iceland


Published papers

Financial wealth and early income mobility

with Tarik Roukny (KU Leuven), Jan Ryckebusch (UGent), and Koen Schoors (UGent).

Humanities and Social Sciences Communications, 9, 51

February 2022     Link    

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We study the interaction between financial wealth and early income growth. Using banking data on career starters in Belgium, we find higher income growth for individuals with higher financial wealth as early as 3 years into a career. While the roles of social capital and innate abilities appear limited, our results suggest that individuals with higher disposable wealth are more likely to find a job matching their human capital, in turn, boosting their chances of higher performance and consequent income growth. Policies addressing individuals’ capacity to accommodate frictions in the market for first jobs could therefore substantially promote economic mobility.

Network control by a constrained external agent as a continuous optimization problem

with Jannes Nys (University of Antwerp), Bruno Merlevede (UGent), and Koen Schoors (UGent).

Scientific Reports, 12, 2304

February 2022     Link    

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Social science studies dealing with control in networks typically resort to heuristics or solely describing the control distribution. Optimal policies, however, require interventions that optimize control over a socioeconomic network subject to real-world constraints. We integrate optimisation tools from deep-learning with network science into a framework that is able to optimize such interventions in real-world networks. We demonstrate the framework in the context of corporate control, where it allows to characterize the vulnerability of strategically important corporate networks to sensitive takeovers, an important contemporaneous policy challenge. The framework produces insights that are relevant for governing real-world socioeconomic networks, and opens up new research avenues for improving our understanding and control of such complex systems.

Loan maturity aggregation in interbank lending networks obscures mesoscale structure and economic functions

with Marnix Van Soom (VUB), Koen Schoors (UGent, HSE), and Jan Ruckebusch (UGent).

Scientific Reports, 9, 12512

August 2019     Link    

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Since the 2007-2009 financial crisis, substantial academic effort was dedicated to improving our understanding of interbank lending networks (ILNs). Because of data limitations, the literature largely lacks loan maturity information. We employ an interbank loan contract dataset to investigate whether maturity details are informative of the network structure. Applying the layered stochastic block model of Peixoto (2015)~\cite{peixoto2015} and other tools from network science on a time series of bilateral loans with multiple maturity layers in the Russian ILN, we find that collapsing all such layers consistently obscures mesoscale structure. The optimal maturity granularity lies between completely collapsing and completely separating the maturity layers and depends on the development phase of the interbank market, with a more developed market requiring more layers for optimal description. Closer inspection of the inferred maturity bins associated with the optimal maturity granularity reveals specific economic functions, from liquidity intermediation to financing. Collapsing a network with multiple underlying maturity layers, common in economic research, is therefore not only an incomplete representation of the ILN’s mesoscale structure, but also conceals existing economic functions. This holds important insights and opportunities for theoretical and empirical studies on interbank market contagion, stability, and on the desirable level of regulatory data disclosure.

Social Stability and Extended Social Balance-Quantifying the Role of Inactive Links in Social Networks

with Andres M. Belaza (UGent), Kevin Hoefman (UGent), Jan Ryckebusch (UGent), Aaron Bramson (RIKEN, UGent, UNC Charlotte), Koen Schoors (UGent, HSE), Corneel Casert (UGent), and Benjamin Vandermarliere (UGent).

Physica A: Statistical Mechanics and its Applications; 518, 270-284

March 2019     Link    

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Structural balance in social network theory starts from signed networks with active relationships (friendly or hostile) to establish a hierarchy between four different types of triadic relationships. The lack of an active link also provides information about the network. To exploit the information that remains uncovered by structural balance, we introduce the inactive relationship that accounts for both neutral and nonexistent ties between two agents. This addition results in ten types of triads, with the advantage that the network analysis can be done with complete networks. To each type of triadic relationship, we assign an energy that is a measure for its average occupation probability. Finite temperatures account for a persistent form of disorder in the formation of the triadic relationships. We propose a Hamiltonian with three interaction terms and a chemical potential (capturing the cost of edge activation) as an underlying model for the triadic energy levels. Our model is suitable for empirical analysis of political networks and allows to uncover generative mechanisms. It is tested on an extended data set for the standings between two classes of alliances in a massively multi-player on-line game (MMOG) and on real-world data for the relationships between countries during the Cold War era. We find emergent properties in the triadic relationships between the nodes in a political network. For example, we observe a persistent hierarchy between the ten triadic energy levels across time and networks. In addition, the analysis reveals consistency in the extracted model parameters and a universal data collapse of a derived combination of global properties of the networks. We illustrate that the model has predictive power for the transition probabilities between the different triadic states.

Statistical Physics of Balance Theory

with Andres M. Belaza (UGent), Kevin Hoefman (UGent), Jan Ryckebusch (UGent), Aaron Bramson (RIKEN, UGent, UNC Charlotte), and Koen Schoors (UGent, HSE).

PLoS one, 12(8): e0183696

Aug 2017     Link    

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Triadic relationships are accepted to play a key role in the dynamics of social and political networks. Building on insights gleaned from balance theory in social network studies and from Boltzmann-Gibbs statistical physics, we propose a model to quantitatively capture the dynamics of the four types of triadic relationships in a network. Central to our model are the triads’ incidence rates and the idea that those can be modeled by assigning a specific triadic energy to each type of triadic relation. We emphasize the role of the degeneracy of the different triads and how it impacts the degree of frustration in the political network. In order to account for a persistent form of disorder in the formation of the triadic relationships, we introduce the systemic variable temperature. In order to learn about the dynamics and motives, we propose a generic Hamiltonian with three terms to model the triadic energies. One term is connected with a three-body interaction that captures balance theory. The other terms take into account the impact of heterogeneity and of negative edges in the triads. The validity of our model is tested on four datasets including the time series of triadic relationships for the standings between two classes of alliances in a massively multiplayer online game (MMOG). We also analyze real-world data for the relationships between the “agents” involved in the Syrian civil war, and in the relations between countries during the Cold War era. We find emerging properties in the triadic relationships in a political network, for example reflecting itself in a persistent hierarchy between the four triadic energies, and in the consistency of the extracted parameters from comparing the model Hamiltonian to the data.

Work In Progress

Repayment behaviour prediction for mortgage loans using dynamic survival analysis.

with Marijn De Kerpel.

Causality-preservation capabilities in data replication methods: an overview.

with Yves-Cedric Bauwelinckx (KU Leuven), Tim Verdonck (University of Antwerp, KU Leuven), Jan Dhaene (KU Leuven).

Decomposing the consumption response to income changes.

with Johannes Weytjens (UGent), Kris Boudt (UGent, VUB), and Koen Schoors (UGent).

A finger on the pulse: GDP nowcasting with transaction level banking data.

with Feliciaan De Palmenaer (UGent, VUB), Arno De Block (UGent, VUB), Kris Boudt (UGent, VUB), and Koen Schoors (UGent).

Liquid wealth heterogeneity, asymmetric consumption dynamics, and myopic loss aversion

with Koen Schoors (UGent)

Working Paper    

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Using transaction-level bank account data on Belgian career starters, we empirically study the effect of liquid wealth on consumption dynamics in the absence of both illiquid wealth and debt. We find an asymmetric consumption response to anticipated income changes, with a stronger response to income increases than to decreases. This asymmetry in consumption responses originates from the asymmetric consumption smoothing effect of liquid wealth. Rational models of consumption are unable to fully explain the results. These results are consistent, however, with the predictions of a behavioural model of myopic loss aversion. Early in a career, individuals thus exhibit a combination of greater sensitivity to losses than to gains and a tendency to evaluate outcomes frequently

Other Published Work

Measuring Propagation with Temporal Webs

with Aaron Bramson (RIKEN, UGent, UNC Charlotte), Koen Schoors (UGent, HSE), Kevin Hoefman (UGent), Benjamin Vandermarliere (UGent).

Temporal network epidemiology, 57-104 (Springer)

2017     Link    

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This book covers recent developments in epidemic process models and related data on temporally varying networks. It is widely recognized that contact networks are indispensable for describing, understanding, and intervening to stop the spread of infectious diseases in human and animal populations; “network epidemiology” is an umbrella term to describe this research field. More recently, contact networks have been recognized as being highly dynamic. This observation, also supported by an increasing amount of new data, has led to research on temporal networks, a rapidly growing area. Changes in network structure are often informed by epidemic (or other) dynamics, in which case they are referred to as adaptive networks. This volume gathers contributions by prominent authors working in temporal and adaptive network epidemiology, a field essential to understanding infectious diseases in real society.

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