How Yale Economist Rohini Pande Aims to Reconstruct Social Norms

When she’s not designing public policies to reduce air pollution and expanding employment opportunities for women, Yale Economist Rohini Pande’s goal always remains the same, whether at work or not, to serve the people who are marginalized amid booming technologies and economic breakthroughs. A part of one of the oldest institutions in the US whose goal is to research economic growth in the developing parts of the world, she is known as Yale’s Henry J. Heinz II Professor of Economics and director of Yale’s Economic Growth Center. According to her the biggest hurdle in countries like India is challenging regressive social norms and harnessing digital tech to increase women’s access to economic opportunities and healthcare in order that social justice can be manifested. 

Can policies influence social norms particularly where women are restricted?

When the economy grows, it does not always benefit everyone and this is what she seeks to resolve, saying, “I’ve been thinking about women’s participation in the labor force, focusing on India, where, if anything, women’s participation in the workforce has significantly declined as the country’s economy has grown. It is at levels below what is seen in most countries, with the exception of Saudi Arabia.” Hence, she has been trying to focus on how women can be made a part of the designing policy interventions so that other women can become a part of the workforce, all while having the control over their financial resources. However, the main question is whether these policies can influence India’s social norms, particularly where women’s freedom is restricted. “I’m working on a study that explores the effects of providing women access to direct deposit into individual bank accounts. How does that capability, combined with training, affect women’s financial independence and their capacity to work? We performed a large field evaluation in India in collaboration with government partners and found that the intervention increased women’s participation in the workforce,” she said. 

“A lot of the satisfaction in teaching comes from seeing students engaging and thinking about something in ways they hadn’t before”

Another ongoing project that Pande is passionate about is giving women access to smartphones so that they can gain access to various networks like Facebook; the gender gap in Facebook lies at 30 percent in India at the moment. Smartphones are no longer a luxury in India because they can give people so must access and independence. Pande’s interventions are also delving into environmental issues since even these are having a massive economic impact, saying, “One key aspect of setting up a cap and trade system is obtaining good information about emissions. In the case of particulate matter, this means installing machinery that can monitor the amount of particulate pollution the smokestacks are emitting.” For her, the most satisfying aspect of her job is that it really gives her the opportunity to think which is something she values a lot. “ A lot of the satisfaction in teaching comes from seeing students engaging and thinking about something in ways they hadn’t before, especially when it involves issues of social justice. The presumption is that you have to go to other fields to seek solutions to social justice issues. I enjoy seeing students recognize that economics can add something to those discussions,” she added.

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