Kids Corner


New Columbia University Faculty Member:
Economist Supreet Kaur





An Interview with Supreet Kaur, Assistant Professor of International and Public Affairs and Economics


Supreet Kaur comes to Columbia University's School of International and Public Afffairs ("SIPA") from Harvard University, where she received her PhD in Economics with a focus in development economics.

Harvard's Economics Department recently honored Supreet Kaur's dissertation, "Essays on Labor Markets in Developing Countries," with the David A. Wells Prize for outstanding original research.


What do you study?

My research focuses on labor markets in poor countries, with an emphasis on applying behavioral economics to understand labor arrangements.

One current project, for example, focuses on why unemployment is high in villages. Why don't we observe wage cuts during recessions -- are notions of fairness relevant in how wages are set?

Another project shows that such wage rigidity impacts sharecropping arrangements. When rigidity causes larger employment distortions, landless laborers and small farmers are more likely to sharecrop land instead of working as wage laborers on others' farms.

A third project documents that self-control problems lower productivity -- they lead people to work less hard than they would like. This has implications for the theory of the firm: when production will be organized within a firm versus through decentralized market transactions.

My work uses a combination of methods -- theory, empirical analysis, and randomized field experiments -- to examine such questions.

What do you teach?

I teach development economics and program evaluation.

What do you consider today’s most pressing global issue?

Today's most pressing issue is the vast inequality of opportunity in the world. More than any other factor, the circumstances into which we are born determine whether our mothers die in childbirth, whether our children succumb to diseases like diarrhea or malaria, whether we have the option to receive an education, and whether we can choose professions that enable us to apply our talents for personal and societal progress. This is not a new problem, but one that continues to deserve the effort and urgent attention of policymakers, academics, entrepreneurs, and philanthropists.

What professional achievement are you most proud of?

I am extremely excited to begin my career as a researcher at Columbia, where I was an undergraduate many years ago.

Why did you choose to come to SIPA?

SIPA is an ideal environment in which to study poverty. The intellectual culture is extraordinarily rich and the student body is passionate about the subject. It is impossible not to thrive as a researcher and instructor in such an exciting department.



Supreet Kaur, Ph.D., has been involved with the Sikh Coalition since its inception and worked as a full-time volunteer in 2004.

She is currently an Assistant Professor in the Department of Economics and the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University. Her work applies Behavioral Economics to the study of poverty in developing countries and in the US. She holds a Ph.D. in Political Economy and Government and an M.P.A. in International Development, both from Harvard University.

Supreet has been selected as a David A. Wells Prize recipient by the Harvard Economics Department (2012), a Giorgio Ruffolo Doctoral Fellow in Sustainability Science at Harvard's Center for International Development (2010-2011), a Dissertation Fellow at the Project on Justice, Welfare, and Economics at Harvard (2010-2011), and a Public Policy and International Affairs Fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School (2005-2007).

Her work has received financial support from the National Science Foundation, the Institute for Financial Management and Research in India, and various institutes at Harvard and Columbia universities.


August 26, 2012

Conversation about this article

1: N. Singh (Canada), August 26, 2012, 9:16 AM.

Wow! She is so accomplished. Congratulations, Supreet!

2: G.C. Singh (USA), August 26, 2012, 11:14 AM.

Supreet Kaur is an excellent role model for young Sikhs - many of them bewildered and confused about their identity and direction in life. She has proved that you can study at the best schools in the world and achieve a fulfilling professional career in top institutions, while proudly maintaining your Guru given identity.

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