Podcast: Luiza Nassif talks about economics of care, diversity and self-awareness – part 1

In this new episode of Brazilian Women in Economics’s Podcast, Laura Karpuska interviews the researcher Luiza Nassif. She is a bachelor and master in Economics from UFRJ and PhD in Economics from The New School for Social Research. She is currently a researcher at the Levy Economics Institute of Bard College.

Luiza told us that her trajectory in Economics happened by chance: she started college pursuing a degree on Applied Mathematics, but she missed the presence of discussions on social issues, and ended up transferring to Economics. Nevertheless, it was only in her PhD that she began to find herself in the field. The encouragement of Prof. Laura Carvalho was decisive on Luiza’s intention of studying abroad, which demonstrates the importance of female mentoring.

What is the care economy? According to Luiza, they are domestic-sphere activities that are unpaid and also mostly performed by women. In Brazil, the lack of data on this subject creates a deadlock for the debate’s progress: in the past, only one family member went out to work and the salary was enough to support a family.  Nowadays, the configuration of two family members in the paid labor market outsources care activities, which consequently relies on exploitation of another social category. Gender and race issues run through these problems.

Nassif recalls the relevance of encouraging social-minority students, so that the academic environment becomes more diverse.  She also recalled the importance of being self-aware not only about the discrimination we experience, but also the privileges we have.

Follow the full interview:

Laura Karpuska: Welcome to the EconomistAs podcast, an economics program focused on getting to know the voice of our fellow researchers and showing that economics is also a woman’s thing. This podcast is affiliated with EconomistAs, the Brazilian Women in Economics research group at the University of São Paulo. I’m Laura Karpuska, researcher at the São Paulo Law School of the Getulio Varga Foundation, and I am associated with the EconomistAs research group.

We will continue here today with our chat about women in economics and we will also take the opportunity to learn more about these women, the challenges they encountered in their careers, and what tips they have for us and for those who are just starting out in their careers.

We want to show that economics is a tool like so many others that can help us to better understand the world in which we live in and also to improve people’s lives.

So today we welcome the researcher Luiza Nassif. She will talk about economics of care, public policies focused on gender issues, and the debate on economics in Brazil.

Luiza is a researcher for the Gender Equality and Economics Program and a professor of graduate programs and economic theory and public policy at the Levy Economics Institute of Bard College in the United States. She has a bachelor’s and master’s degree in economics from Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ) and she holds a PhD in economics from The New School for Social Research, also in the United States.

Luiza, we are very happy to have you here today. Thank you so much for accepting our invitation.

Tell our listeners how you ended up in Economics. What was your trajectory so far?

Luiza Nassif: Good morning, Laura. Thank you so much for the invitation. I’m very, very happy to be able to participate and talk to you. Congratulations on the podcast. It’s very cool.

When I started in economics, I usually say that I fell into economics with a parachute; it was not a choice, which is funny. I started actually when I went to college and I started doing applied mathematics. I was at UFRJ and tried to request a transfer to the communication program, but they had no vacancy to be transferred and I ended up taking a semester in communication that I never used for anything, and then I asked for a transfer to economics because they had a transfer vacancy. So, it was quite by chance like that, and I thought, if I don’t like it, I’ll take the entrance exam again. I will not waste this possibility here. Then I joined the economics program and I’m not going to tell you that I liked it right away, but I realized right away that I had a knack for doing economics because I have a very quantitative skill set, I like it a lot, I have a knack for mathematics, I always liked it, but applied mathematics was too much for me. It lacked the side of humanity, of social science. So when I found myself in a discipline that was between the mathematical question and the more human question, the social question, I liked that side, but it took me a long time and look, really, it was just in my doctorate that I understood that I liked economics too, to find a theme within economics that I liked, that was when I learned about the economics of care, economics of social reproduction, more feminist issues, right?

Laura Karpuska: I think this is something that we hear a little bit here with our interviewees. I think that some of those interviewed were sure they wanted economics. I, myself, think that economics was a word that was not even in my repertoire when I went to study it, just before taking the entrance exam, but I think that a lot of people identify themselves with this question of yours. Look, I like math, quantitative articles, but I wanted to have questions that are related to human behavior, sociology, human sciences, right? The social sciences. So, I think it’s really cool for us to hear that there is this common identification between us, right?

Luiza, I would like to ask you a little bit about your trajectory, right? From the bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Brazil and after his decision to take a PhD at the New School in New York. How did it go? Was it a natural thing for you? Did you enter the undergraduate course knowing that you wanted to do a master’s and doctorate or was it something that was being built?

Luiza Nassif: Look, if I didn’t know that I wanted Economics, I knew even less that I wanted to have a master’s degree. In my family I’m the first to have an undergraduate degree. Neither my mother nor my father has a complete undergraduate degree. They have technical courses and stuff, so it didn’t come from home, so it came a lot … yes, I think I ended up doing my master’s degree a little bit because I didn’t know what else to do, right? I did economics, I didn’t like it so much, I didn’t have a clear idea of what I wanted to work with, I had no desire to work in a company or in a bank or whatever, so I suddenly had the possibility of taking a public exam for BNDES, to be in something a little closer to public policies, but it wasn’t very clear to me what to do with that, and then in the absence, it was almost, it was kind of inertia, you know? It is very crazy to think that I got into economics by chance and ended up becoming a doctor in economics almost due to inertia, right? But I kept going like this and then I decided to do the master’s degree, I was in doubt if I should do it, I did Anpec, so it was already clear to me that I had a more heterodox tendency, that I wanted to be among these schools, so at Anpec I was in doubt between going to Unicamp or staying at UFRJ and I ended up deciding to stay at UFRJ. Then yes, with the idea of doing a doctorate abroad, once I started on this path, I thought at least I will try to go abroad, that was a desire that I had and this trajectory of living abroad. Laura Carvalho from University of São Paulo (USP), had a very important role for me because I knew her already when I was in undergraduate and she was in the master’s degree, so I followed closely her process of going abroad, to go to New School, right? And we were working together at the end of my master’s degree, when I applied for a the Ph.D., in São Paulo, at FGV and she helped me make this decision, she encouraged me a lot to go abroad and specifically to go to the New School, right? Anyway, that was it, and then I came and here I found a little more something that motivated me within economics, but until that moment I was kind of flowing, I didn’t really know what to do and I didn’t want to go back to square one, right? Once you already have a master’s degree in Economics, you already have a bachelor’s degree, now you have a master’s degree, so we can find something to do with it, right?

Laura Karpuska: Oh indeed. I thought your answer was very cool because I tend to think that the minority is the one that knows for sure, especially as teenagers, all the steps that will be taken, right? I have the impression that at this stage, for those who have a non-academic family, or is not a family of people who have a profession similar to the one chosen by their children, by the young people of the family, it is very difficult for you to make the right decisions, yes? And the environment that you end up staying in is very important because what you called inertia I would say could be an influence of the environment, right? In economics, it is very common for people to do postgraduate courses, so we kind of go through inertia, but it is because the environment has also influenced us. And how important it is that we have women who inspire us, who mentor us, as was Laura Carvalho’s inspiration and mentoring, right? It’s very cool. It is even something that we try to do in the podcast, because, unfortunately, there are few women in Brazil in the academy and not all of us will be lucky enough to run into a Laura on our way there. So, who knows, people listening to your podcast today, your interview, they may feel guided and mentored there by Luiza, even if virtually, right?

Luiza Nassif: Oh thanks. Wow, it’s something I try to do a lot. Be careful with my women students to understand what are the difficulties. We realize very clearly that women, they have more difficulties to first find motivation within the field, right? The examples are masculine, in short, the whole theory, a theory constructed by white men, so that is very clear. We feel less capable to contribute when in fact it is the opposite. I think that women, minorities in general, they have much more to contribute with theory, with application and so on, with life experience for economics than the majority part of our discipline, which are middle class white men, in short, who find it easier to be motivated to do economics. So, it ends up being a very important role, and I hope that I can motivate, but I also hope that I can motivate professors that understand the importance of nurturing these relationships, taking care of students, taking care of black students, for example, and to have this look at the difficulty that these students find in motivating themselves in Economics.

Laura Karpuska: Perfect. Now I ask you when do you think you realized that there was a gender gap in economics, specifically, when did you notice that?

Luiza Nassif: Look, the first major discomfort I had, which I clearly remember was in macroeconomics 1 class when I heard … not macroeconomics, right? Not macroeconomics, but introduction to macro, my first semester of economics when I saw the example, an infamous example, I don’t know if you also heard this example that when the boss marries the maid, the gross domestic product (GDP) falls. I don’t know if it was …

Laura Karpuska: Wow, I didn’t hear. Fortunately.