June Sewon Yang wants to use economics to study issues affecting the rights of minorities.
June Sewon Yang
June Sewon Yang

“I was born and raised in Korea, where minority rights are super low,” said June Sewon Yang, MACRM Class of 2024, “which is why I think I was always interested in women’s rights—and minority rights in general. However, since I never thought I could do economics research on those issues, I did a lot of activist work instead.” 

For example, Yang was a part of the LGBTQIA+ rights organization Byunnal during her time at Ewha Womans University in South Korea, where she earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in economics. “I also organized and participated in various protests and marches, printed several publications, and hosted numerous events. I also resisted discriminatory acts against LGBTQIA+ people by presenting a speech at a forum hosted by AIESEC on gender and sexuality.” 

However, Yang did not see academic research being done that addressed the problems she saw in her activist work. “While doing my undergraduate and graduate work, I noticed economists were not researching minority issues at all—which made me want to do it all the more,” she said with a laugh. “My activist work inspired me as well, because I could see firsthand how rights were being diminished.”

The Master of Arts in Public Policy with Certificate in Research Methods (MACRM) program at Harris, Yang said, was especially appealing because she saw much of the economic work faculty were doing included a focus on issues affecting minorities.

During her time in the MACRM program, Yang said she had several meaningful research opportunities. “I assisted Professor Dan Black with research on how delaying a bachelor's degree affects future incomes, and I worked on a project with Professor Ariel Kalil that aimed to reduce inequality in education by studying different strategies parents could use to help their children learn.”

Yang also received support on an independent research project from Professor Steven Durlauf. “I asked him if he could advise me on my thesis—an analysis of the gender wage gap in South Korea—and he looked at my research and said he loved it! He let me present at his Inequality Working Group, and I received invaluable feedback.” Yang said she seeks to build on her thesis moving forward, investigating “how the birth of the first child affects the wage gap.” 

Aside from further developing her academic and research skills, Yang said she found a thriving community at Harris. “There are people from all over the world here, and they bring so many different approaches to analyzing challenges.” 

The friendships she developed, she said, also helped foster career opportunities. “One of my MACRM friends did an internship with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and told me that they were doing LBGTQ research. I asked her if her boss would still need people moving forward, and she said yes and connected us. That led to an interview and my current position, where I’m participating in a project that examines how anti-LGBTQIA+ discrimination hampers the economic prospects and mental health of queer people.”

Moving forward, Yang plans to follow through with her plan to become a professor of economics. “I have a very strict plan,” she said with a laugh. “I will do my PhD in economics or public policy and become a professor. My dream job is to research discrimination and inequality and teach students economics.”