Story posted October 30, 2007
Economist Rachel Connelly is no stranger to firsts. After she joined the Bowdoin faculty in 1985, she became the first woman in her department to receive tenure and then was the first woman in her department to be named full professor.
An expert in demographics and labor markets, she was also among the first microeconomists to study the economics of child care. Her work has been a springboard for subsequent research on child care in the 1990s, as more scholars began studying the rapid influx of women into the workplace.
She has published more than 25 articles and one book, Kids at Work: The Value of Employer-Sponsored On-Site Child Care Centers.
Connelly now becomes the first professor named to the Bion R. Cram Professorship in Economics, a faculty chair established in 2006 in memory of Economics Professor Warren B. Catlin, who was a favorite teacher of Cram, Bowdoin Class of 1937.
Connelly discussed her research, and her pioneering pathways as a researcher, at the Bion R. Cram Professorship in Economics Inaugural Lecture at 7:30 p.m., Tuesday, October 30, 2007, in Kresge Auditorium, Visual Arts Center.
Support for faculty career development is an important goal of The Bowdoin Campaign, which ends in 2009. Through faculty research funds, sabbatic leaves, and outside support, Bowdoin faculty can conduct important research in their fields.
"These pathways have not been open to women for very long," noted Connelly. "Bowdoin should be commended as an institution for realizing about 25 years ago that they did not have enough women faculty and for making both a concerted effort to hire women and for working as an institution to create an environment where women are able to succeed and move through the faculty ranks to become full professors. I feel very honored to now be named a chaired professor."
Connelly's talk, titled "Maine Street to ChangAn Jie: Exploring the Road to Women's Employment," synthesized over 20 years of her research and made a case for subsidized child care.
"Our studies have shown that single mothers are more sensitive to the price of child care than married mothers, and part-time more than full-time workers," noted Connelly. "All the parents we interviewed wanted their children in high quality settings but often must tradeoff quality, convenience and price. In that battleground, quality does not usually win. If we care about the quality of care that children receive, we must reduce the price of quality. That means subsidies from government or subsidies from employers or both."
Interestingly, Connelly's recent research on Chinese women's education and migration also leads back to the issue of childcare. "I purposefully did not study child care as an economic choice for Chinese women," noted Connelly, "because in China grandparents take care of grandchildren."
What she found, however, was that many women from rural China migrate to cities for employment to pay for the education of their children. "The timing of migration is often linked to children's education," said Connelly. "Women will go home when it's time for their kids to start school, because most grandparents are illiterate. If you want your kids to succeed in school, you have to be there to help. It turns out that it's all about child care anyway."
Connelly earned her bachelor's degree at Brandeis University and her master's and doctorate degrees at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. During her time at Bowdoin she has also held positions of National Science Foundation/American Statistical Association Fellow at the U.S. Census Bureau and was a visiting professor at People's University in Beijing and Peking University, Institute for Population Research.
Over the years her research has been funded by the W.E Upjohn Institute of Employment Research, the Russell Sage Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Freeman Foundation and the National Science Foundation as well as Bowdoin Faculty Research Funds.