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Professor Uma Kambhampati joined the University of Reading in 1998 as a Professor of Economics. As a development economist and currently the Head of School of Philosophy, Politics and Economics, Uma's research interests include gender, development and household economics with a primary focus on child labour, women's empowerment, individual well-being and life satisfaction.

At the outset

During her early years of research, much of Uma's work applied economic principles to understand the determinants, patterns and impact of child work in India.

With globalization, developing economies such as India witnessed a sudden proliferation in child labour practices with many high profile consumer goods being sourced from organisations employing child workers. Uma examined gender attitudes and types of social institutions that influenced the probability of schooling and work among children. 

"Does the environment that a child is born in make a difference to the growth and development opportunities available? For instance, are households really poor and hence forced to make their children work? Is it the presence of gender bias and social institutions like patriarchy in families that discriminates say against the girl child going to school? Economics has some of the answers." 

Retaining her intellectual focus in intra household research, Uma moved on to study child work and education in relation to women's empowerment. Does empowerment improve the welfare of children within the household? Research findings indicated that a mother's literacy, when factored in, increases the probability of schooling and decreases that of work, especially for girls. In other words, when mothers have bargaining power, in this case via education, they are likely to increase collective household welfare. 

Much of this research was based on research funding from the Department for International Development in the UK (DFID). Uma has published a number of papers on the topic in various journals and publications including World Development, Journal of Development Studies, European Journal of Development Research and Feminist Economics.

Women leadership and Covid-19

Uma's latest research conducted with the University of Liverpool's Supriya Garikipati, analyses how leaders around the world reacted in the early days of the pandemic. The paper considers whether country differences in performance to the pandemic can be explained by differences in policy measures adopted by male and female leaders.

This research on the effectiveness of female leaders in dealing with the pandemic has been covered by the World Economic Forum and more than 50 international media outlets since it was published for the first time in June 2020.  

Measuring happiness and wellbeing

For years, an on-going discussion within economics and development studies has raised questions as to whether wellbeing is influenced by an individual's personality or by the environment they live in. Uma's research tries to understand factors affecting life satisfaction among adults in the UK. 

"Is there really a gender difference when you look at individual life satisfaction and happiness? What makes a woman or a man happy? Are women happier than men?"

While average levels of life satisfaction are similar for men and women, the variations in life satisfaction are more marked for women. Paid work hours increase life satisfaction for both men and women, while housework hours, childcare and caring for adults are statistically more significant for women.

Working with students

Currently supervising dissertation and PhD students within the Department of Economics, Uma is happy to see her students develop similar research interests in gender and development studies. Many of her students tend to look at other markets that are neglected by mainstream economists but are strongly affected by institutional factors like gender norms and notions of masculinity and femininity.

For instance, she recently co-authored a paper with one of her students which examines the reasons behind the wage premium earned in sex work over domestic work in India. Both sectors employ individuals with similar demographics: women with low levels of training and education who have migrated to cities for work. 

"I have known Professor Uma Kambhampati for more than six years, first as a PhD student and later as a colleague and co-author. Uma has a wealth of knowledge and experience, and has the incredible capacity to mould a set of incoherent ideas into a well-structured piece of research. I have always deeply benefited from her expertise and have thoroughly enjoyed working with her," said Dr Neha Hui, PhD Alumna and Lecturer.

Celebrating diversity at Reading

Economics as a discipline has always been perceived as a male dominated hard science. Research has shown women are under-represented in the profession worldwide. Uma is proud of the fact that the Department of Economics at the University of Reading is breaking the stereotypes in this regard.

"We have higher female representation amongst staff in the Department which does not hold true for most departments within the country. We have a large body of female economists and early career researchers in addition to a strong cohort of female PhD students. Additionally, the School of Philosophy, Politics and Economics at Reading is among the few in the country to have a female Head of School of Asian origin."

Speaking about diversity in teaching and learning, Uma points out the strengths of the Department are not limited to the teaching of pure economics, statistics and mathematics. Undergraduate students have the opportunity to select options and learn from specialists in economic history and social economics right from the start of their degree.

The optional modules offered to undergraduate and postgraduate students build on the Department's research strengths notably in the fields of labour economics, behavioural economics, development economics, business economics and finance, econometrics, macroeconomics and sports economics.

The research intensive teaching also builds on the Department's close association with other disciplines in the wider University including psychology, geography, history, business studies and philosophy. Uma herself is a part of the Global Development Research Division in the University working closely with the School of Law, School of Agriculture, Policy and Development and the Department of Geography and Environmental Science.

"Within the Department of Economics, there is a collective interest in being on top of things in our areas of specialism. For instance, it doesn't stop at the fact that I am a development economist and I teach development economics. What really matters is I am a development economist and I use a certain set of skills and methodology in my teaching and research. The more I am able to keep myself up to date with that, the better I am able to pass that on to my students."


Dr Stefania Lovo: evaluating the costs of a clean environment

Dr Stefania Lovo’s research involves understanding the role of economic activities and policies to tackle contemporary environmental problems.

Dr Sarah Jewell: researching and teaching the economics of labour

Dr Sarah Jewell is interested in human capital – the skills and attributes a person has that makes them attractive in the labour market. 

Dr James Reade: the Economics of Sport research

Combining his interest in sport with mathematics gave Dr James Reade an excellent opportunity to study the economic behaviour of people.