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The economics of equality: PhD graduate Boxi Yang used quantitative methods to study gender inequality in China
Boxi Yang says that as a woman born and raised in China, she has always been cognizant of gender.
An only child who was primarily raised by her grandmother while her mother was working, Yang grew up hearing stories about the difficulties faced by previous generations of women in her family. One important story being her mother’s sacrifice of her own education so her two brothers could go to school.
Exploring gender inequality through a quantitative lens made perfect sense for Yang’s PhD thesis. “I was curious about how family structure could affect individual education, labour market outcomes, gender norms and intergenerational transfers,” Yang says.
Generally, she says, gender is not extensively talked about in economics in part because it is so hard to quantify. However, “the one-child policy in China has created a perfect ‘experiment’ type of environment which lends itself to studying data.” Her research used historical government data to analyze correlations between gender, education, financial success and the labour market.
One finding of Yang’s research, for example, showed that the lack of a comprehensive childcare system in China is one factor that deters female participation in the labour force.
According to her PhD supervisor Chris Bidner, “Boxi's work significantly expands the boundaries of what we know about the economic lives of women in China. Her dissertation is research at its most satisfying, showing what can be achieved when rigorous analysis is applied to a topic that one is passionate about.”
"Boxi's work significantly expands the boundaries of what we know about the economic lives of women in China."
Chris Bidner, Associate Professor
Before coming to Simon Fraser University (SFU), Yang earned her BSc in Economics from Beijing University and her MA in Economics from New York University.
She was originally drawn to SFU’s Department of Economics because of the young and distinguished faculty. She said it was exciting to see a “team of young economists trying to tackle new things.” After seven years as a PhD student in the department, the faculty and other graduate students feel like family to her. She thrived in the collaborative atmosphere with other PhD students.
The active Brown Bag seminar series was a highlight of the program for Yang. This seminar series gives faculty and PhD students an informal opportunity to present work in progress to their colleagues and receive feedback. She appreciated the participation from faculty members and their willingness to discuss research questions with her. Yang adds, “the economics faculty are all so approachable and passionate about their research.”
Yang is now working as a Senior Research Associate on the Education & Skills team of the Conference Board of Canada, a think tank that advises federal and provincial governments and other stakeholders. She is excited about this role because it focuses more on the applicability of research results.
Rather than looking at causality, her job now is to use data tools to describe the current situation in a particular area, such as the number of women in science programs, and then propose possible solutions based on that data, such as establishing scholarships to help women succeed.
When asked if she had any advice for students, Yang said, “Economics is like a kaleidoscope. Stay curious. Broaden your understanding by studying other related disciplines. An interdisciplinary approach could provide richer context for your economics study.”