My Experience as a Visiting Scholar at the China Center for Social Policy

July 24 @ 5:11 pm
By Candice Yandam-Rivière

At the end of my first month as a visiting scholar at the China Center for Social Policy, run by Professor Qin Gao, I had the opportunity to attend a day-long conference she had organized, Caring for All: Challenges and Opportunities in China and Beyond.

At Professor Gao’s invitation, economists and social work researchers from various universities around the world presented some of the most cutting-edge work on welfare- and health-related issues in China.

That particular conference exemplified everything I would come to enjoy about being at Columbia for three months: the multidisciplinary research approach to solving complex social problems and the emphasis on international collaboration.

READ: “Columbia China Center for Social Policy Hosts Successful Conference on Caring for All,” by Yalu Zhang, Candice Yandam, and Yahan Yang

From Paris to New York City

I first met Professor Gao when I reached out to her to share my interest in China’s Labor Contract Law, which, by having Chinese employers enter into written employment contracts with their workers, marked a major turning point for Chinese workers. As a Ph.D. candidate at Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne University, I am writing my dissertation on the relationship between labor regulations and economic performance in developing countries, and I found myself inspired by Professor Gao’s extensive research on China’s labor regulations and their impact on social welfare.

I was delighted when Professor Gao invited me to become a visiting scholar at the China Center, after which I had the good fortune of receiving two research grants—the Columbia Alliance Program’s Doctoral Mobility Grant and the Paris 1 International Doctoral Mobility Grant—to support a three-month-long stay in New York City.

Intellectual Rigor and Teamwork at the China Center

Being based at the China Center was an enriching, and ultimately productive, experience for me. With the help of my colleagues, I was able to access and work with a unique dataset from the China Labor Dynamics Survey, China’s first national longitudinal social survey targeted at the labor force.

While at the Center, I used the first three waves of this dataset (2012–2016) to measure the impact of China’s reformed labor law on workers’ welfare, job satisfaction, and labor market outcomes. I coauthored a paper with Professor Gao on this topic, which we presented at the annual conference of the Society for Institutional & Organizational Economics, held in Sweden at the end of June.

In the course of writing the paper, Professor Gao and I held regular meetings to exchange ideas on the use of this dataset. We worked hard to define the research question, develop the methodology, discuss data samples, survey the pre-existing literature, and then analyze my findings.

Professor Gao’s experience and input were invaluable. As we report in the paper, our estimations showed that having a written labor contract leads to an increase in workers’ salary, insurance participation, and income satisfaction—a finding that marks an important advancement in the literature on this topic, with implications for labor policy in China.

Further Opportunities at Columbia Law School

As my work sits at the crossroads of law and economics, I also used my time at Columbia to get to know some of the faculty at the Law School, where empirical techniques are widely used to investigate the relationship between law and economics.

I met with Professor Benjamin Liebman, a prominent scholar of contemporary Chinese law. He invited me to attend his class on Chinese Law, which covers a wide variety of Chinese legal issues through readings in empirical economic research, sociology, political science, and legal analysis.

I also attended a fascinating workshop series held during spring semesters at the Law School’s Center for Contract and Economic Organization. Run by Professors Robert Scott and Patrick Bolton, the series attempts to bridge the space between law and economics. The first half of the semester the speakers are legal scholars and the second half, economists; but regardless of discipline, the topics all relate to the law and economics of contracts, commercial transactions, and business organizations.

An Intellectual Transformation

Columbia has equipped me with the tools and the inspiration necessary to recommence, with renewed vigor, my PhD journey back home in France.

By the end of my three-month stay, I truly feel as though I’ve spent a whole year at Columbia University. My experiences at Columbia School of Social Work and Columbia Law School have helped to refine my understanding of the important social and legal aspects behind China’s regulations, which are key to properly contextualizing my doctoral research.

Perhaps even more importantly, I feel as though I have blossomed as an academic researcher thanks in large part to my close collaboration with Professor Gao.

Candice Yandam-Rivière is a Ph.D. Candidate at Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne University. Her dissertation focuses on the impact of labor regulations on economic performance in developing countries. Her work is supervised by Pr. Rémi Bazillier, an expert on labor standards, labor market institutions in developing countries, and corporate social responsibility.