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Jane Olmstead-Rumsey

PhD Candidate in Economics

Jane Olmstead-Rumsey

I like economics because it has predictive power. In many cases, that predictive power relies on examining comparable experiences from the past.”

Jane Olmstead-Rumsey is a PhD candidate in economics in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences. Her research utilizes mathematical models to represent economic decisions and interactions and uses data to test the predictions of these models. Jane was recently featured on PBS’s To The Contrary, discussing a study that she co-authored on how the Coronavirus pandemic is impacting gender equality and equal pay.

How would you describe your research and/or work to a non-academic audience?
My interests in my field, macroeconomics, are broad. I have applied these tools to study the information and communication technology revolution’s effects on firms and economic growth; banking crises in 19th century Britain; and most recently the employment outcomes of single parents and married couples during the Coronavirus pandemic. 

Tell us what inspired your research and/or work.
I get inspired for new projects by thinking about the future. How will technological and policy changes happening today affect the economic environment we find ourselves in tomorrow, and how will that change our behavior? I like economics because it has predictive power. In many cases, that predictive power relies on examining comparable experiences from the past.

What do you find both rewarding and challenging about your research and/or work?
Communicating your findings is extremely important, particularly when they have policy relevance. I’m still learning how to communicate in a way that is exciting and engaging for broad audiences while retaining technical precision.

Why Northwestern?
The macroeconomics faculty members here are unmatched. The economics students prefer collaboration to competition. The Department of Economics has a close relationship with Kellogg, providing access to even more fantastic faculty members and interesting seminars. The beautiful campus, the lake, and the proximity to Chicago don’t hurt, either.

What books are on your bedside table?
When not reading for academic work, I pretty much only read fiction. Right now I'm reading Milkman by Anna Burns. Also on my table: The Nightingale, The Census, and Then We Came to the End

What advice would you give your younger self or someone considering a similar path?
I think it’s important to understand what the academic research process is like before you start a PhD. In economics, projects usually take years of revision and modification before they are published, yet the most fun parts are usually the first few months of working on a new idea. This slog to the finish line may not be for everyone. Coding is also increasingly important in many fields. I would advise almost anyone going to grad school to dedicate time to learn some computer science. I’ve picked up what I need to along the way, but I regret not learning to do things “properly” from the start. 

Tell us about a current achievement or something you're working on that excites you.
I’m currently working with my adviser, Matthias Doepke, on a project about women’s employment during the Coronavirus pandemic. Past recessions have usually seen many more men than women lose their jobs, but this is not the case during this crisis. This is partly because the sectors most affected by lockdowns employ more women than men, and partly because school closures have massively increased childcare needs, which tend to be met by mothers more than fathers. We argue that this crisis has the potential to increase the gender wage gap in the future as women lose out on returns to experience in the labor market. But we also discuss how potential changes in telework and hours flexibility may disproportionately benefit women going forward. This project has been rewarding because of the broad public interest in this topic, and because it is fulfilling to work on something related to the crisis that is currently reshaping all of our lives. 

Published: July 14, 2020


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