In Conversation with Cecilia Conrad


Equitable Growth in Conversation is a recurring series where we talk with economists and other academics to help us better understand whether and how economic inequality affects economic growth and stability. In this installment, Kate Bahn, the director of labor market policy and chief economist at the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, speaks with Cecilia Conrad, the CEO of Lever for Change, a nonprofit affiliate of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, where she is a managing director, and emerita professor of economics at Pomona College in Claremont, California. Her research focuses on the effects of race and gender on economic status. In a recent conversation, Bahn and Conrad discussed:

  • Past and current research at the intersection of race and gender
  • Theories about the intersections of race, class, and gender
  • Stratification economics and the intersection of race and gender
  • The policymaking implications of intersectionality
  • Support for Black and feminist economists and feminist thought in economics
  • Leadership roles at the National Economic Association and International Association of Feminist Journalists
  • Lever for Change and the MacArthur’s Fellowship Program

Kate Bahn: Thank you for joining us. I’m really excited that you took the time.

Cecilia Conrad: Thank you for inviting me.

Past and current academic research at the intersection of race and gender

Bahn: I want to start with discussing your research background. I’m interested in particular in your scholarship on how gender equity impacts women of color. What do we learn about progress on gender equity when we disaggregate outcomes by race, ethnic origin, and other socially salient identities? Have women progressed at similar rate? What do we miss if we don’t do that disaggregation?

Conrad: Let’s start with how I got attracted to this kind of research. Let’s go back to graduate school and a labor economics seminar where we had this discussion about labor force participation rates of women, which was very heavily focused on the fact that the rates were growing. But if you looked at disaggregated data, then you would find that they weren’t growing for every group; that for some people, and some groups, they had always been high; and that for some subsets of Black women, they were actually going down.

I became interested in the set of questions and variables where one might look to explain what was happening to those different groups. To explain the trend for White women, the economic theory of the household focused on increases in women’s wages or decreases in men’s wages. Economists explained differences in hours worked among women by looking at husband’s incomes, but this only partially explained the Black-White differential in participation rates. So, this led scholars to think about what was happening with Black women, and that led to a lot more attention paid to the stability of income—not just the level of income, the stability of it and the precariousness of family status.

This approach also led people to start to look at family structure and what role that played in labor force participation and wage differentials. So, for me, that was my first example that disaggregating and looking at subpopulations could be a really advantageous way to think about things.

One of the next areas that I looked at in this regard was some of the work on occupational segregation over time. I’ve looked at trends in status, trying to understand what could explain the emergence of patterns over time. For Black women, what you see most dramatically is that there has been a permanent change in occupational distribution. Until really the 1960s, the vast majority of Black women who were working were employed in household service or in work very similar to household service.

I think about my own grandmother. She worked in household service and then she worked in the kitchens at the University of Illinois, which was a move forward. This was a recurring pattern, where the move up was to get a job on a university campus or in the public sector to do the same kinds of work. But then, what happened as clerical work opened up? Black women moved into those positions, but the patterns of moving from clerical work into management observed for White women never really opened up for Black women. That gives you a separate set of things to ask questions about, including about mobility and occupational mobility, and how that plays out.

And then, the third direction of my research had to do with fertility behavior. Back in the mid-1980s and afterward, policymakers and social scientists were very, very concerned about motherhood, primarily teenage motherhood, particularly among Black women. A high proportion of births to Black women were births to women who were teenagers, and a high proportion of the births to Black women were out of wedlock (nonmarital) births. These trends tended to be mixed together in the conversation. What was not being talked about was that one reason for the high proportion of babies to teen mothers and to unmarried mothers was a drop in birth rates among Black women who were older, and particularly among Black women who were the best educated. That observation suggests a different conversation about the interaction between the structure of labor market opportunities and timing of fertility.

Bahn: What it makes me think of, too, is that when scholars dig in, we find these unique circumstances that are hiding because we aggregate the data, which is really relevant to understanding different outcomes. It makes me think about what’s happening right now in the labor market, particularly with Black women. If you look at the recovery in employment, we know that Black women have lost the most jobs, and they’ve gained the least back. But when you look at women overall, it’s going to obscure what’s happening to Black women right now. And if we just look at women overall, we’re really going to miss the unique circumstance that Black women face in this pandemic recovery.

Conrad: That’s absolutely true that one can miss those unique circumstances, but I also really think a lot about [the late Harvard Law School civil rights theorist] Carol Lani Guinier’s argument about being the canary in the coal mine. Sometimes, those circumstances may seem unique to Black women, but they have a way of spreading out from there. And sometimes, what you see happening in the Black population is going to eventually reach further into other groups, other demographic groups, because they’re usually the first to get hit hard, but it’s a trend that may be expanding beyond that Black population.

Bahn: Yes, the canary-in-the-coal mine analogy is so apt today. Understanding the negative outcomes in the U.S. labor market for Black women and addressing them in the end will help all workers and their families. That’s why this kind of research is important broadly, too.

Conrad: Exactly.

Theories about the intersections of race, class, and gender

Bahn: So, digging a little deeper, your paper on “The Complexities and Potential of Theorizing Gender, Caste, Race, and Class” is one of my all-time favorite research papers. I want to talk about that paper specifically and then sort of broadly because it’s not just focused on what economists can find out empirically when we look at these different groups of people in the economy, but also the role of theorizing race and gender in doing this work. So, to that point, what do you mean by theorizing race and gender and how does this help us understand the U.S. economy better or set up better empirical models?

Conrad: That paper, on theorizing race and gender, was a co-authored paper with [sociologist and professor of African American and African Studies at University of Minnesota] Rose Brewer and [emerita professor of economics at Portland State University] Mary King, and its intro was co-authored by all three of us in a particular way. When we thought about the theorizing portion of it, at the time, the economic theory was economics of identity model, a model that explored how group membership might constrain individual decisions. What we were trying to understand was how people’s decisions and behaviors and constraints are affected by, first, group membership, and then, the intersection of those group memberships. In some sense, we each may be unique, but some parts of us are more salient in some contexts than others. My co-authors and I were really trying to think hard about what that looked like. So, that was a starting point.

One of the things that I think is interesting now is to connect this work to some of the work that’s happening in the context of segmentation theory, in the context of the work that [Samuel DuBois Cook professor of public policy, African and African American studies, and economics at Duke University] Sandy Darity and others are doing on stratification.

Stratification economics and the intersection of race and gender

Bahn: Interesting. Could you elaborate?

Conrad: I think that there needs to be more work in stratification economics to build gender into that model and how you think of those things together. So, for me, it means creating a structural framework that points us to some of the empirical questions that we haven’t thought to ask. It points to some of the ways we can interrogate data differently or even explain some of the observations that we’ve seen differently. And, ultimately, that leads to some different ways of thinking about policy, too.

I am now thinking about this in the context of the work I’m still doing on fertility. It’s not out there yet in published work, but there are some really interesting trends, and some of the trends might lead to new hypotheses. As I’ve already mentioned, in the 1980s, the empirical observation was that there was a real change in the timing of when Black women were having babies. Birth rates were not going up, but the proportion born to teenagers was going up while the proportion born to older Black women was falling. Among White women, the proportion born to older women was starting to go up. How do we explain this?

That led me to think about how to model, in an integrated way, the timing of fertility, what the marriage market looks like, and what the job market looks like, and what are the educational opportunities? I think the stratification economics model is ripe for this kind of thinking because, ultimately, to understand that pattern of fertility behavior, you have to think not only about what are the factors that are affecting decisions for Black women, but you also have to understand what is affecting the decisions of Black men. What are the constraints that Black men are facing? What are the ways in which the combination of those things that we’re observing are affecting structures in society that limit choices, limit opportunities, and also tend to, dare I say, clamp down on opportunities as they emerge?

Bahn: Yes. That makes sense, too. I think this is a good time to reflect on your work in feminist economics and on racial stratification because feminist economics does bring in those community factors. How are communities and households shaping these outcomes rather than just as individuals? Among the interplay of these factors with each other, what is relevant to economic outcomes, and how do scholars make sense of that? And what is the role of interdisciplinarity when we think about how to build better theories, so that we can do the better empirical work? Is there anything you can say as to the role of what you’ve learned through doing interdisciplinary research?

Conrad: Yes. And I’m going to pick another example—child support—that is something I have done a little bit of work on, but I think the interdisciplinary perspective is making me rethink my initial thoughts on this. I have a co-authored paper on child support that is included in a book, Fathers Under Fire: The Revolution in Child Support Enforcement, that is looking at child support and child well-being. Our paper is about whether requiring child support might have a negative impact on child well-being because it may make it harder for men to remarry. There was an argument that child support puts a burden on men and then they can’t remarry, so it deprives other children of having a father in the household. What we were seeing empirically, in that particular paper, was that not paying child support was a bad signal for those men getting married again. So, in fact, there was a positive correlation. Paying your child support made you more likely to get married again because you were a better person probably, overall. That was our hypothesis.

It got me interested in this whole concern about child support and how you collect it. I think I came at it particularly from a perspective of an economics model without understanding some of the complexities that sociologists were thinking about. So, there was this observation that Black women were less likely to go to legal remedies to get child support. As an economist, you tend to take this view of like, Why not? Why aren’t they? Is it because it’s too costly to sue?

But going down that path, it turns out, is not the fruitful way of thinking about this. Much more fruitful is to understand from some of the work that people are doing in sociology and a little bit in some of the more interdisciplinary fields such as Africana studies, about perceptions of the interactions between the Black community and the police state, and the reluctance of Black women to engage with that police state or to do anything to bring the men in their family or the men in their lives in connection with that police state. This lens gives you a completely different perspective, or what economists might take from a very narrow lens, and it was my tendency as well.

The policymaking implications of intersectionality

Bahn: That’s really interesting. What are the implications for policy? When you’re theorizing, when you have a more nuanced theory, when you’re theorizing about gender and race, how does that make better policy? Or how does that result in better policy analysis?

Conrad: I think about this in a couple of ways. One way, going back to the fertility example for a moment, is about teenage motherhood. When I first started working on that, there were policies that were being suggested that essentially would punish you for not getting married. But if you really look at it from an understanding of gender and race intersectionality, then your understanding of why people aren’t getting married is very different than the public policies focused on forced marriage are going to address. It really points you to other public policies, such as how to make voluntary unions feasible. Or how to support the couples who are already together and want to stay together but can’t do it because of the ways in which the labor market limits their opportunities. Or the ways in which the criminal justice system is taking men out of the household. So, it points you in a different direction.

And I think the same is true with the child support example that I gave you. Examining the issue from a different perspective at the intersection of race and gender may suggest that policymakers should take child support out of the courts and out of the family justice system, and put in a different framing.

Bahn: Yes. These are good examples of how better research makes for better policy. This is what we try to do at Equitable Growth. If we don’t have a complex view of the world, we’re going to have ineffective policy, so we need to be doing the best research we can for that end.

Conrad: And it goes back to what you were saying, too, about disaggregating. I think back to an example of my community service. My son was young, and he was in school in Clairmont, California, and the state of California had a tough budget year and was cutting all the school district budgets. Our school district was facing some pretty drastic cuts, and there emerged a real conflict in the community about the best way to cut the budget.

I was on an advisory budget committee. We tried to organize some community meetings where we got people together because the high school parents were arguing to increase class sizes in elementary schools, and elementary school parents were saying cut out the AP programs in the high school. People were at each other’s throats.

But what was really interesting to me was to encounter people who had seen some of the early empirical work on class sizes that did not find any effect of class size on student performance. Yet they had not seen the studies that show that class size does matter for some groups of students, particularly students from minority ethnic backgrounds and students who have English as their second language. There are places where class size matters.

To me, this is an example of how a policy wonk would say, “Well, if we’re going to cut the budget, we can make those class sizes bigger and not have an impact,” when, in fact, it would really harm a whole group of people. The other piece about the small classes that was missing from the discussion was that it also didn’t take into account that parents were going to take kids out of the school if the classes got bigger.

In the end, the outcome was great but probably only possible in a well-to-do suburb. The people who participated in those budget debates formed an educational foundation and raised money, so that we got to keep the small classes and the AP programs. And we convinced some of those parents it was cheaper to give to the foundation than to take three of their kids out of the school and send them to private school.

Bahn: This is a great example of the best-quality research that looks at smaller groups and moves away from average effects, looking at more marginal effects. This approach has huge implications for inequality, too, because you don’t want to necessarily target policy toward the average if it leaves behind people who are going to lose out the most.

Conrad: That is so, so true. I think about it a lot. It comes up in the context of who should get spots at selective universities or why a lot of cities are rethinking their selective high school policies. Now, I’m going to be like a neoclassical economist. What you want to ask is, “What’s the marginal impact of that spot? Who’s going to benefit the most at the margin?” And that may very well be the marginal student who you didn’t accept, as opposed to the average student or the student at the top of the pyramid.

Support for Black and feminist economists and feminist thought in economics

Bahn: I want to pivot to your leadership in academia, both in building spaces that support economists of color, particularly Black economists, and spaces that include feminist thought as applied to economics. Can you tell us how you got involved as a leader? What made you decide to get involved? How did you proceed in getting involved as a leader?

Conrad: I was brought up in a family that was deeply committed to service. My father was a surgeon. He was one of the few Black surgeons in town when he moved to Dallas. But I remember him telling me once that he was in this unique position because his income did not depend on the White power structure in this Southern city. He had a freedom to speak out and to be active in ways his patients didn’t, and so it was his responsibility to do so. And my mother, who was, at that time, full-time taking care of me and really a full-time volunteer, was the other piece of that.

So, I grew up with this notion that there were lots of people who had worked hard to create the opportunities that I had. I’m an affirmative action baby. My graduate school education came directly out of a historic settlement between the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and [the former telecom giant] AT&T. When Phyllis Wallace was at the EEOC, they said that they would try and address the agency’s lack of diversity by creating this fellowship program, and that’s what funded my graduate school. I feel this real sense that I have to pay back; I have to pay back every step of the way.

There was a moment that I think this happens to most of us pre-tenure, if you’re on an academic track, to try and lay low. I wasn’t always successful at doing that because I was in environments where there were students of color who didn’t really have people to talk to, and I felt like I had to play that role. And this need crossed all students of color because there weren’t Asian American faculty, Latino faculty, or Black faculty—particularly when I was at Duke University and at Barnard College.

Right after I got tenure at Barnard, I was in a situation where some people were behaving badly in a seminar presentation by a woman scholar. And I had a student with me who was a returning student, so older than the traditional student, who had come to this seminar with me. I wrote a note to her about the bad behavior, and she wrote back, “Tell them to stop. You have tenure now.” And that was a wake-up call for me—a moment for me to take responsibility. I’m like my dad now. I have security. It’s up to me to step up and to try and support the people who are coming along behind me.

That really is what got me engaged. I was asked to lead the Pipeline Project at the American Economic Association’s Committee on the Status of Minority Groups in the Economics Profession, which is now known as the Mentoring Program, as we were just getting started. Susan Collins [now the president and CEO of the Federal Reserve in Boston] had gotten a grant to launch this program as an addition to the AEA Summer Program, so that was an experiment. We tried some things that didn’t work. Ultimately, what survived out of that was the Mentoring Program, and I’m just excited to see how that thrives. And I’m excited because some of the people who were in those early years—among them economists Trevon Logan [at The Ohio State University] and Fernando Lozano [at Pomona College]—were part of my first cohort. That’s exciting.

Bahn: I’ve heard really exceptional stories from people you’ve worked with in the past about the lengths you go to to be supportive of people, too, like helping people prepare for interviews and things like that. So, I think you really are someone who has gone above and beyond, and it’s a lot of extra. I appreciate the energy you put toward that.

Leadership roles at the National Economic Association and International Association of Feminist Journalists

Bahn: Your leadership is self-evident as both the president of the National Economic Association, as well as the International Association for Feminist Economics. I really would love to know your thoughts on what the unique role of those organizations are in changing economics that is useful, in addition to other groups, such as the AEA-organized groups for the Committee on the Status of Women in the Economics Profession and the Committee on the Status of Minority Groups in the Economics Profession. What different role do those organizations play?

Conrad: So, I’ll start with the National Economic Association, which grew out of something that was called the Caucus of Black Economists. That organization was developed with two real goals in mind. One was to support Black economists in their careers, but the other was to make sure that the study of race and economic status remained on the front burner. For long stretches of time, people in the NEA were the only ones who had sessions at the American Economic Association or the Allied Social Science Association that addressed race and racial discrimination and acknowledged that discrimination was a feature of our society. The journal, The Review of Black Political Economy, was the journal where these issues were being talked about.

I remember a paper that Sandy Darity and [professor of economics at the Hubert H. Humphry School of Public Policy at the University of Minnesota] Sam Myers did, looking at Black Americans’ economic progress that pointed out some of the growth that we were seeing in relative wage gains was because there was a growth in people, not in the U.S. labor force. Before their paper, the issue of the growing proportion of Black men not in the labor force was not being addressed.

The NEA and the International Association for Feminist Economics were communities for people who were interested in topics that were not considered mainstream, that were considered maybe not even economics. [A number of early feminist economists were kind of pushed out of traditional economics into sociology.] These were and remain communities where you could find other people to work with, to talk to, to be critical friends of the research you were doing—and that has been of critical importance.

Now, I feel there is a moment—though I don’t know how long it’s going to last—where some of those ideas have been embraced in the mainstream economics societies and professions. I will note that this is happening not always with credit to those original sources, which is a bit annoying. I’m not sure that these things could have happened without the existence of those two groups.

Bahn: And I would add that it’s important for these two groups to remain because we need that beacon or that person leading that conversation.

Conrad: Yes. We need them leading the conversation. We need them because these things have gone in cycles. At the time when the Caucus of Black Economists was set up, there was a little bit of interest in mainstream economics, and that’s where those papers on Black economic progress kind of came out. But then, the interest ebbed. I think, to keep this topic alive and make sure it doesn’t get lost until we see some real progress requires that these groups stay at the forefront.

Bahn: Yes, I think it’s very important to keep up this kind of interdisciplinary, inclusive research that you’ve described. I know that CSWEP [the standing committee of the American Economic Association charged with promoting the careers and monitoring the progress of women economists in academia, government agencies, and elsewhere] is very focused on getting people in top journals, which is great, and that should happen. But it is also important to keep pushing the boundaries of how economics theorizes gender, for example.

Conrad: That’s right. CSWEP’s real goal has been advancing women in the profession. And I think, certainly, when you look at some of the early participants in CSWEP, many would never probably identify themselves as feminist economists, and they have not necessarily been at the forefront of rethinking how gender should play a role in economic theory. They’ve been much more at the forefront and done some really good things in terms of how we make mainstream economics more accessible.

I remember the days when we didn’t have child care at the AEA meetings. To me, if nothing else, that is something that’s moved forward. And then, there were the early publications in the AEA journal, in the AEA papers, and in its proceedings, alongside the CSWEP-organized sessions on the topic of gender because that’s where there were clusters of women doing research. Those sessions weren’t necessarily organized because CSWEP wanted to see more gender in the discipline.

I think the National Economic Association also has this split personality and sometimes really struggles on this front, too. There are Black economists who are doing macroeconomic theory, and they want to know why aren’t they showing up in The Review of Black Political Economy? Well, they’re not necessarily doing work on race. I think NEA has been much more focused on making sure that race and the status of Black people is at the forefront of its work, and the NEA has helped incubate other organizations, such as the American Society of Hispanic Economists. How do you keep race and racism at the forefront? That’s a different vision than at CSWEP, which is why I think we need the International Association for Feminist Economics.

Bahn: Yes, that’s its dual mission. You were the chair of the board when I first started at IAFFE, when it was trying to be an activist organization within the field and also trying to be a professional association of people doing research on that topic. It’s hard to do that work.

Conrad: It is. And you just made a really good point because it’s both about the topics and the mode of what constitutes scholarly work that IAFFE is trying to push the boundaries on, so that we recognize the ways in which feminist scholars try to engage with people on the ground, people in nongovernmental organizations, people who, say, are looking at women fisherman in West Africa, and thinking about, “Okay I’m going to apply the theoretical model and then my empirical lens to help actually translate into some intervention to help improve the status of these women.”

Lever for Change and the MacArthur’s Fellowship Program

Bahn: Tell me about your current work.

Conrad: Right now, one of things I’m doing is running a new nonprofit called Lever for Change at the MacArthur Foundation. I went to MacArthur to run the MacArthur’s Fellows Program, and I can elaborate some more about that in a moment. Lever for Change is in the business of trying to help ultra-high-net-worth individuals give away their money and give it away in bigger amounts more quickly than they’ve been doing. We do these open calls, some of them are global, some of them are national. These open calls are one of the things I love about my job.

We just did the Equality Can’t Wait Challenge, which was focused on women’s power and influence in the United States. And we’re working with the W.K. Kellogg Foundation on the Racial Equity 2030 Challenge. Each one of these challenges gives me a moment-in-time snapshot of the fields of endeavor and the organizations that are doing the work and what their theories of change are, and how those theories of change are playing out in terms of their strategies, and what they’re doing on the ground.

What I find really fascinating is to see the ways in which the kind of work economists do could do more to inform what’s happening on the ground and vice versa. I’ll just give one example. I look across the competitions we’ve run and focused on those people doing work on race and racial equity. One of the things that surprised me is how many of the projects are essentially informed by the economics human capital model. They’re focused on education, or they’re focused on job training. They’re focused on helping people get better credit by teaching financial literacy. Education and job training are important, so I’m not saying that these are not things to worry about. So, there’s a way in which they are locked into a particular model of why racial inequity exists.

Yet there is this other work in economics that would maybe push these organizations to consider other remedies. For example, there’s a project I’ve seen that’s trying to replace the ways in which credit ratings are done. And there are very few projects that are trying to address the racial bias that exists on the side of people making hiring decisions. So, there are ways in which this work in economics could do a better job of getting the research in the hands of the people who are actively on the ground trying to address racial inequity, gender inequity, the intersection of those two.

Bahn: The same thing happens in policymaking, too, from my vantage point, where a lot of these human capital models are really simplified and used as the underlying narrative behind supporting particular policies over others. And it can be pretty inadequate.

Conrad: At Lever for Change, I’m struck by high levels of risk aversion among people who basically made their money taking risks. There’s this different type of attitude toward appetite for risk when it comes to giving their money away than what they might have done when they were investing their time and resources early on, or even in the investment decisions they’re making. The way they think about an angel investment is very different from the way they think about whether or not they should support a particular nonprofit organization.

Bahn: Could you elaborate about how your research informs the work you do now? How does your research background in understanding gender and race as a subject of research, as well as a viewpoint of researchers, inform your new work in where you think funding priorities should go, who should be funded, what they should be looking at? Does your research inform that?

Conrad: My research informs my work indirectly. I’ll start with the Fellows program. The Fellows program has evolved over time, and much of this happened before I came on board, but it’s an interesting case study. In the early days of the program, the fellows were fellas. The program examined itself and decided that it needed to shake up the way that the program identified nominators because the fellows’ selection process starts with these nominators.

There was a conscious effort to broaden who we invited to nominate fellows, to mix it up in terms of gender, to mix it up in terms of racial diversity. I am finding that geographic diversity matters a lot, too, in who we ask to invite to nominate. It isn’t surprising, but it does relate back to some of the early ideas around openness and around how do you create openness in terms of employment opportunities? How do you create openness in terms of all of these sorts of things? So, it was just a great case study to look at.

I think the other piece of it for me is, when I look at the stories of careers and who ends up emerging as a MacArthur Fellow, there are these themes about creativity kind of happening at the borders and sometimes in what now you would call the borderlands, to borrow that language from the Borderlands/La Frontera by Gloria Anzaldúa [a semi-autobiographical text that describes how “borders” are spaces of hybridity where multiple identities exist and participate in multiple spaces, pushing frontiers of identity and understanding].

So, for me, all this reinforces and guides how we look for the next class of fellows and where we look. What those interdisciplinary boundaries are is where we’re finding people. And that’s true across the sciences, where there’s a biologist and engineer looking at how birds fly in flocks and then figuring out how you can take what you’ve learned there and apply it to the placement of windmills for wind energy. This is, for me, one of the real values of bringing diversity to the economics profession, which is to ask different questions, and to see things in different ways, and then maybe push the theory.

And in my other work, I’m always thinking about incentives a lot, and I’m thinking about constraints a lot, and I find out that I tend to talk that way sometimes. This all goes back to what we were discussing earlier, about trying to increase racial equity. In my other research work, I ask myself what should I target? Do I just target education? No. I don’t want to just target education. I want to target other things as well. So, I find myself asking those kinds of questions a lot and drawing from my past in informing those questions.

Bahn: Yes, I think the incentives are interesting when I think about the role of these sorts of borderlands of theory and how the economics field itself can be very self-protecting of their methods and their viewpoints. But then, having a program such as the MacArthur Fellows that does incentivize the borderlands approach to academic research and writing hopefully makes the paradigm shift toward new approaches within various fields easier—at least, that’s the goal.

Conrad: I think rewarding and recognizing the borderlands kind of encourages people to go see what’s happening there. Sometimes it can push people forward in ways that they might not have gone toward without that push, without that external recognition. The MacArthur Fellowship is supposed to have this enabling component. Not only does it enable the individual by giving them some unrestricted resources because sometimes we enable people who are pretty well-situated, but it also uplifts the work in the field. It says, “This is good stuff. You should be paying attention to what’s happening here.”

Bahn: Those were all the questions I had, and it was super interesting to talk to you and hear about all these intersections across your research, your leadership, and then also your new role. It’s really nice to see how those all reinforce each other. I really appreciate you taking the time to talk to me today.

Conrad: Thank you. I’m just so honored to be included in this In Conversation feature series at Equitable Growth.



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