A crystal bowl of Dove chocolate sits atop Professor of economics Pinar Keskin’s desk as she energetically spins around in her chair to say hello. After spending some time discussing the evolution of Keskin’s career, it becomes evident that it is this enthusiasm that keeps Keskin so devoted to her interests in environmental economics, gender and domestic violence.
Growing up in developing Turkey during a period of high inflation, Keskin was interested in why prices of chocolate bars were fluctuating. This curiosity sparked her initial interest in the field of economics.
“Compared to a kid who grew up in a developed country, I had more of a chance to observe how economic factors impact life, and that’s how I got interested in economics,” Keskin said.
After studying at Bilkent University in Ankara, Turkey, she came to Yale University for graduate school. She knew she was interested in economic problems in developing countries, but when she was studying environmental economics abroad, she realized she was especially interested in issues related to gender.
“I spent a semester working in Southern India, specifically Tamil Nadu, and during that time I realized the issue of household bargaining and how women don’t have much of a say if they don’t have income,” she said.
She spent time researching the quality of drinking water and how it affected health and human behavior there, but she found herself repeatedly digging into data related to women’s access to clean drinking water.
“Over time, I realized that these women were spending hours of their lives trying to access clean drinking water,” Keskin said. “I found that women are spending more than an entire workday during a week on average collecting clean drinking water.”
She attributes her specific interests in gender and economics to her upbringing in a largely conservative culture.
“When women are not as recognized, it makes you start questioning certain dynamics in the society and the household,” she said. “I had friends from primary school who couldn’t continue school after fifth grade because their parents decided it wasn’t worth it for girls.”
As a devoted developmental economist, Keskin is committed to improving conditions in developing countries. She thinks economists are not doing as much as they can to figure out the economic issues related to domestic violence and gender.
“Collecting data for domestic violence is very difficult because people report with selectivity. Sometimes we economists don’t see the data to work with, so we think there’s nothing we can do. I think we should spend time and money to find the data for these important issues,” she said.
Keskin later studied the Ogallala aquifer in the American Great Plains. Due to technological advancements after World War II, the Ogallala became a source of clean drinking water. While the area was once drought-stricken, by 1974 the land was valued at $26 billion. Keskin believes this study published in 2011 might be the highlight of her research in developmental economics.
“We studied the effects of what happens when water is dropped onto your land and how it changes your life. It’s interesting to learn as a developmental economist that the questions we are trying to answer today in India, Bangladesh and Africa were hot topics in America and Europe just 50 years ago. The scene and institutions change, but the questions we are answering remain the same,” Keskin said.
Keskin commends the support and camaraderie she experiences in Wellesley’s economics department, particularly because her colleagues’ support makes her research possible.
“Wellesley is an exceptional place. The economics department has an incredible balance of teaching and friendship, so now some of my best friends are here in the department,” she said. “Our department chair, Kristin, will send me in just two days more than what I need in terms of comments on a paper.”
She appreciates the focus on teaching at Wellesley because she feels most passionately about passing on knowledge.
“Having worked at many other institutions, I understand the value of what I have here. If I talk to my students for an extra hour here, my colleagues value it, but if I were at another institution, they may say that I was slacking instead of writing another paper. I get rewarded here for what I like to do,” Keskin said.