Siwan Anderson is a developmental economist whose research focuses on micro-level institutions and the role of gender in economic issues. Her recent projects include studies of rural governments and credit cooperatives in India and missing women in developing countries. She is currently collecting data in rural Maharashtra, India with the aim to understand some implications of the new UID government initiative.
I have done a lot of research on gender and development. I’ve worked on a few projects looking at the link between female property rights and HIV in Sub-Saharan Africa, as well as projects trying to uncover the solution to the missing women puzzle in India. For that project in particular I wanted to look beyond the explanation of an elevated rate of female infanticides to see what role widowhood might also play. I’m also working on a completely different project examining rural political institutions in India. There, my colleagues Ashok Kotwal, Patrick François and I have collected data from interviews with 9,000 households on the subject of the new unique identification system that is being implemented across the country. I’ve always been interested in development economics and gender economics, really since before my PhD, when in particular gender economics was more of a fringe topic.
I think it means academic freedom. I’m not tied to a political agenda or a company’s search for profits, I’m not restricted by others point of view. I think this freedom really allows you to ask the really important questions, because again you aren’t tied to politics or private enterprise.
I was very interested in poverty when I was starting graduate school, and studying economics was a way to discover more about why certain people are poor and the challenges they face in their lives. What’s really useful to me are the tools of economics and economic analysis. A lot of the issues I research are issues in the domains of other social sciences, but I use the tools of economics to help uncover an explanation as to why these issues exist in the way they do. I probably couldn’t explain that much to you about the functioning of the macro-economy as a result, but that’s never been my goal.
I studied math as an undergraduate, and so my goals for the future were to find a way to apply my skills in mathematics in a more applied, less abstract way. I never wanted to be a mathematics professor because I wanted to apply my skills to something in the real world that mattered to me. I was drawn to economics because I saw it as a way to apply these skills in a way that can help explain and even solve social issues.
Definitely my favourite aspects are all that has to do with conducting research and communicating that with my students, particularly my honours undergraduate program students. I also really enjoy teaching my higher level development courses at the PhD level, but I definitely think that conducting my research is my favourite thing about my job.
My biggest challenge, like I think it is for a lot of academics, is publishing my research. The field is changing all the time, so you have to stay constantly up-to-date. So it’s definitely challenging but also exciting in a way too.
I have a huge respect for the top development economists right now, particularly Esther Duflo. She’s helped push the field forward, making it very much more empirical. I also admire big thinkers like Daron Acemoglu, who wrote the book Why Nations Fail. I admire the more applied empirical development economists because of the real-world problems they solve. They ask questions like, for example, how much should malaria nets cost in this region? Or should they be free? How many lives will that save if they cost ‘x’ amount versus ‘y’? I think these questions are important because we can see the direct impact of the research. On the other hand it’s really inspirational to read the broader thinking of economists like Acemoglu and his co-author James Robinson.
I don’t think studying economics in particular has, but definitely being an academic does. You’re used to a degree of clear thinking, and sometimes not everyone is ready to engage on that level. Though I suppose that studying economics has influenced what I read and what I do in my spare time; I like to read up on the issues that matter to me, though perhaps I would read about them anyway even if I wasn’t an economist. However, certainly a lot of my friends are economists.
I think we have the best research faculty by far in Canada. In the past I think that we were very research focused and very strong in that way, and I think recently there’s been a very big push to make the faculty more applied, which has really helped to push us forward as a school. I think it’s good to have a balance between exposing students to research and providing them with practical skills to apply. I think the BIE program in particular highlights our commitment to providing this balance. Another one of our strengths is in the students themselves, since I see us only attracting better and better students over time. It’s definitely a strong peer group. One thing I’ll add is that our faculty is also very nice here, and we’re always available to help students in person. I think this separates us from other schools, since this close connection with faculty is hard to come by at the top schools in economics.
I think there’s two things: 1) you don’t really want to be a business student – we want people who are focused on how to explain social issues, not how to make money – and 2) you need some mathematical tools to help you as well, because, to a greater degree than other social sciences, economics is tied to mathematics. Above all you need to be concerned with global issues and helping to study and solve them.