“The Section is unlike any other place to learn economics,” said Diane Schanzenbach, Ph.D. *02 at this summer’s grand reunion for alumni from Princeton’s Industrial Relations Section (IR Section).
“What Princeton really gave to me was the tools to ask some of the most important questions, both for economics and policy.”
Schanzenbach, who is now a professor at Northwestern University, was one of over 200 former students, visitors, and friends of the IR Section who came to campus in June to celebrate the group’s centenary. For two days, current and former members of the IR Section met on Princeton’s campus to see familiar faces, celebrate past accomplishments, and, of course, present new research.
“Our Centenary conference was a great opportunity for graduates of the Section, young and old, to meet each other and discuss their current research projects,” said IR Section Director Leah Boustan, noting that several new collaborations even emerged out of these conversations.
“The presentations showcased the wide range of research topics relating to labor economics that our graduates are tackling now, from climate change to immigration to crime.”
The symposium was a unique opportunity for advisors to catch up with advisees, for old friends to reconnect, and for alumni working across a broad range of industries to find new ways to collaborate.
At this summer’s centenary research symposium, nearly 40 alumni spoke or presented new research to their peers on topics ranging from the racial wealth gap in the U.S. to econometrics to higher education and more.
The event also included a special panel discussion–”Insights from a Century of Empirical Economic Research”–featuring former IR Section Director Cecilia Rouse and IR Section alumni MIT Professor Joshua Angrist, Ph.D. *89, University of California at Berkeley Professor David Card, Ph.D. *83, and Princeton Professor Janet Currie, Ph.D. *88. The panel was moderated by Princeton Professor David Lee, who earned his Ph.D. at Princeton in 1999 and served as director of the IR Section from 2009-2013.
In their conversation, panelists discussed how IR Section researchers, through the development of new methodologies, have disrupted different fields of research, as well as the impact of IR Section research and alumni on public policy.
“You don’t get the big reward by…taking on an easy problem,” said Cecilia Rouse, who recently served as Chair of President Biden’s Council of Economic Advisers. “We learn new things because people come up with new data and new insight, and that takes time and effort and a new way of thinking.”
The IR Section was founded in the period of deep labor strife leading up to the Great Depression. Conceptualized by the labor expert Clarence Hicks and initially funded by John D. Rockefeller, it was created in 1922 to ensure the best research on topics like unemployment insurance and collective bargaining would be made available to the individuals, companies, and policymakers.
Over the last 100 years, its research and activities contributed to the creation of Social Security and an enhanced understanding of the important role played by labor unions. The IR Section’s role in the “credibility revolution”–which began with IR Section research on the minimum wage and inspired the 2022 Nobel Prize–helped move the field forward in innumerable ways.
Throughout it all, IR Section researchers have remained focused on how inequality and discrimination affect individuals, markets, and the economy and used their research and knowledge to improve public policy.
To learn more about the IR Section and its 100 anniversary celebration, visit the centennial celebration website.
Photo credit: Sameer Kahn/Fotobuddy