Finding community and collaboration at Yale Department of Economics: PhD student Paula Calvo

Tuesday, March 2, 2021
Portrait of Paula Calvo

Growing up in Argentina as the first person in her family to attend university, Paula Calvo never imagined she would get a PhD in economics. “I didn’t know all of the possibilities that were available,” she says. “I didn’t know anyone with a PhD… I didn’t even know what a PhD was!”

But at Yale, she has not only found an intellectual environment to match her talents, she has found coauthors. A new working paper with Assistant Professor Ilse Lindenlaub and Ana Reynoso – PhD ‘18, now an assistant professor at the University of Michigan – charts new ground in the family economics literature. 

Calvo was also pleased to find a strong sense of community – including efforts to support a larger role for women in the field of economics, with networking events, dinners, and other opportunities for female students and faculty to connect. 

“It’s good to have found a department that is supportive, constructive and respectful,” Calvo says. “The Economics Department is making efforts to become more inclusive.” 

Examining crossover between markets

In her second year at Yale, Calvo and Lindenlaub realized they shared an overlapping research interest: the interaction between labor markets and marriage markets. “It’s difficult to understand outcomes in the labor market without taking into account what happens in the household,” Calvo explains. “Marriage market and household choices end up shaping what happens in the labor market, as well.” 

It was the beginning of a fruitful collaboration.Together Calvo, Lindenlaub and Reynoso built a rich equilibrium model that incorporates both markets and suggests a key dynamic: increased complementarity in married couples’ home production hours (particularly shared childcare responsibilities) has important associations with inequality and gender gaps.

“With stronger complementarities in home production among spouses, people increasingly marry people with similar education levels,” Calvo explains. “This reduces gender gaps in labor market outcomes, since similarly educated partners tend to work similar hours compared to couples with big differences in education. But this increases inequality between households, since less educated households earn increasingly lower wages than higher educated households.”

To investigate empirically, the team applied their model to data from the German national household survey, which confirmed their hypothesis: German spouses’ household roles had indeed become more complementary over time, alongside the model’s predicted effects on gender gaps and inequality.  

For Calvo, the unique collaboration was a highlight of her PhD experience. “It is not common to have an economics paper with three female coauthors,” she says. “I learned a lot from my coauthors – not only about how to do research, but also about how to navigate the profession, and how to navigate it as a woman.” 

The paper fits into Calvo’s broad research agenda – her job market paper examines how marriage and cohabitation patterns affect outcomes for women and children. The research also has important real-world implications: tax policy, parental leave policies, and universal childcare – by impacting marriage and household production patterns – all have the power to mitigate or amplify inequality. 

Aiming to make a mark on economics 

Calvo’s pathway to a PhD program was not direct. After completing her undergraduate degree and spending a brief stint in the private sector, she returned for a masters where she took classes in development economics, applied micro, and labor economics. She worked as a consultant with the World Bank and UNCTAD,then decided to pursue academia. 

“I wanted to do something that had impact,” she recalls. 

While working towards her PhD, Calvo has gotten involved in the broader Yale community. As a graduate volunteer for the Women in Economics program, she advised undergraduate female and minority students considering economics as a major.

“Women face a lot of barriers in economics,” she says. “I think it’s important to provide information about the wide variety of career paths available to economics majors, and implement actions to help overcome gender gaps in the field.”

As she prepares to complete her degree with strong research under her belt, Calvo seems poised to have the impact she originally sought.

“Having female role models at Yale has been a great experience,” she says. “In the future, I hope I can be a role model to my students.”

Greg Larson is a freelance consultant and writer focused on economics, public policy, and social impact.