Valerie RameyValerie A. Ramey, a professor in the Department of Economics and a former chair, has been elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, one of the country’s most esteemed honorary societies and independent policy research centers. More on this exciting news is here. We recently asked her to reflect on the award, her work and women in economics. Q&A follows.

Congratulations on being elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences! In what ways do you see your work responding to society’s challenges and opportunities?

Thank you.  I was thrilled when I heard the news.  I am honored to have been elected to such a prestigious academy whose members include George Washington and Benjamin Franklin. Much of my work responds to society's challenges.  I am an applied economist so most of my research tries to answer questions that are relevant either for understanding what is currently happening in the economy or for understanding what types of policies can help address problems.   For example, my work estimating government spending multipliers helps inform policymakers about the likely consequences of government stimulus programs undertaken during recessions.

Janet Yellen is perhaps one of the nation’s most powerful economists – and the highest-profile woman in economics. Is this important now or for future generations?

Janet Yellen is important first and foremost because she is a highly effective Federal Reserve chair.  Monetary policy has powerful effects on the economy and monetary stability is a necessary condition for economic stability, so Janet Yellen's great performance as Federal Reserve chair will be her most important legacy.  Of course, as a woman, Janet Yellen also provides a powerful role model for women in economics since she has ascended to the very top of the profession in a policymaker role.  She also had a very successful academic career as a professor at UC Berkeley before she became a policymaker. 

The UC San Diego Department of Economics has a higher proportion of women faculty and students than many others.  In what ways is this significant?

Our department has a higher proportion of women among full professors.  According to the latest data, only 11 percent of the full professors at top-20 economics departments are women.  In our department, 22 percent of the full professors are women.  Furthermore, all but one were hired as untenured assistant professors who were successful not only in gaining tenure but also in continuing to rise through the academic ranks.  This record attests to the department's strong record in nurturing junior faculty.

UC San Diego is definitely an outlier among top economic departments in the fraction of undergraduate majors who are female (42%).  Many other departments [at other Universities] are struggling with a situation in which few women decide to choose economics as major and are trying to find ways to solve the problem.  UC San Diego does not have that problem.

Who are some important economists who have helped inspire you? How?

I have been inspired by many important economists in my career.  The ones who were the most important for my career were the ones who mentored me.  When I was an undergraduate at the University of Arizona, I was mentored by leading labor economist Ron Oaxaca and experimental economist Vernon Smith (who later won the Nobel prize).  In graduate school at Stanford, my thesis advisor Robert Hall was a great mentor and he continues to be a mentor because we serve on many advisory panels together.  As it turns out, though, my husband, Garey Ramey, who is also an economics professor at UC San Diego, was the most important economist for my career because he continually helped me build confidence when I had persistent doubts about my ability to succeed in this career.