The Wheatley Institution is happy to introduce its newest Fellow, Joseph Price. Joe is an Associate Professor of Economics at Brigham Young University. We had the opportunity to sit down with Joe and get to know his passions, his work, and his goals.
What about economics has kept you so intrigued?
I always loved engineering. When I was in high school I told my mom that I would one day have this idea factory where I would come up with ideas and then my workers would implement my ideas. I always thought my ideas would be inventions, but now I realize that ideas that involve humans are actually way more interesting to me and a lot more powerful. For me it was largely changing from a chemical engineer to someone who thinks about how to create policies and programs that will change peoples’ lives.
What are you researching right now?
Some of the questions I care a lot about now are the economic consequences of placing a child up for adoption. Only about 1-2% of unmarried mothers make that choice, yet that choice can have million dollar consequences for the child, for the mother, for the mother’s future children, and for the family that gets to adopt that child. To me that’s a fascinating question. I see it as something I wish I could change in the world.
You’ve contributed to many academic journals. Is there a work you’re most proud of?
There are a couple that I think have made a difference in the world. One of my first papers is about birth order and the time parents spend with their children. One of the things to come out of that study is that you think you’re being fair, but you’re not. Even though you’re spending the same amount of time with both kids at any point in time, you don’t spend nearly as much time with your second born as you did when your first born was that age. I’ve had several people say to me, “I’ve started spending a lot more time with my second, third, fourth born children because I didn’t realize just how much of a difference there was.”
Another was the racial bias among NBA referees. It got a lot of media attention, so the racial bias actually went away. A reason that that study is really meaningful to me is that we all have prejudices, but that prejudice is potentially malleable. As scholars we can actually point out prejudices that exist and that can be one of the key ways to make it go away.
I think another area where I feel like I can make an important contribution is regarding same sex marriage. Around that issue there were statements made that simply weren’t true and had enormous consequences outside of the debate of same sex marriage. For example, the statement that parental gender doesn’t matter, that fathers and mothers are inter changeable, is just simply not true. And it has disastrous consequences for child custody cases. A judge should be able to say living with a mother is different than living with a father and we might want to take that into account when we’re deciding how to set up a child custody arrangement.
If people could learn one thing from all of your research, what would you want it to be?
The best research comes out of tapping into people’s insights and expertise. We think there are experts and non-experts, but I think the world is made of people who are experts in lots of different things. The best way to gain insights on life is by asking people questions.
What do you hope to contribute as a new fellow to the Wheatley Institution?
What I would love is to elevate BYU’s role in some of the public discourse about the family. I also want to create connections with scholars at other institutions. I want to use those friendships to create bridges between important organizations. I think institutions that focus on core values like the family can play a big role in bridging those gaps between establishments.
Why do you do what you do?
I’ve always had this strong desire to change the world. And when we hear “change the world” we often think about it in a big historic sense. To me, changing the world is looking at something in the world that you wish was different, and then doing something to make it different. It bothers me that people’s lives are affected by racial prejudice. You wouldn’t think [of my study about racial prejudice of NBA referees] as changing the world, but I was able to change racial bias in one particular setting. It taught me about what I can do in other settings to change the world.
On another note, what drives me is this phrase, “Children are entitled to birth within the bonds of matrimony, and to be reared by a father and a mother who honor marital vows with complete fidelity” (The Family: A Proclamation to the World). This captures what I hope to accomplish as a scholar.