Department of Economics
The light went on for Patralekha Ukil in an introduction to economics class her freshman year in high school in her native India. Her teacher had a knack for explaining abstract concepts and relating them to the human experience.
“I took that class and there was no looking back,” says Ukil, a new assistant professor in the Department of Economics. “This 15-year-old girl decided on her career.”
Ukil received her bachelor’s in economics from the University of Calcutta, her master’s in economics from the University of Warwick in England and finished her Ph.D. in economics at the University of Connecticut this year.
And true to her 9th-grade inspiration, she has used economics as a lens through which to understand people’s lives. “When I started doing research, that is when I fully realized that even though we are talking about these stark, unemotional concepts that may not seem very relevant,” says Ukil, “I have always focused on research questions that are very real.”
Ukil specializes in labor economics, and she has found herself engaging in conversations about her work with people far outside academia, including her Uber drivers. “I feel blessed,” she says “because I work in a field that allows me to do that.” Ukil’s master’s thesis, which was published, explored the effects of having more than two children on the labor force participation among upper middle-class women in the United Kingdom, finding that one must account for innate differences among women to get an accurate picture.
Her most recent topic has been the intergenerational effects of import competition in the United States on infant health. Using birthweight data, Ukil compared infant health between 1990 and 2000 as Chinese import competition hurt U.S. labor markets.
“Low birthweight is a very strong predictor of poor infant health,” Ukil says. “Over 10 years what I found is that those local labor market areas that faced a higher proportion of import competition also experienced declining birthweights on average and a higher proportion of low birthweight babies.”