Catching up with Marie-Louise Decamps

July 24, 2017

A native of Sao Paulo, Brazil, women’s tennis’ Marie-Louise Decamps has always had a fascination with big cities. As a seasoned international tennis player, Decamps has traveled to play in cities all around the world and has applied this interest to her studies at GW. The economics major is spending her summer working on three separate research projects – two with Professor Remi Jedwab, an Associate Professor of Economics and International Affairs in the Elliot School, and one research project of her own. Decamps talked to about the research she is conducting this summer, the impact she hopes it will have, and how she sees this research experience helping her reach her career aspirations.

How did you become interested in development and urban economics?
My sophomore year I took Development Economics, and I really enjoyed it. I have never taken an Urban Economics class, and I didn’t really know much about it. I live in São Paulo, which is one of the biggest cities in the world, and I’ve been fortunate of traveling to many countries to play tennis. In this way, I developed an interest in cities, but it wasn’t until I started working for Professor Jedwab that I realized Urban Economics is a field that I could potentially pursue.

What research projects are you working on with Professor Jedwab?
The first project is about how the age structure of cities in low-income is skewed towards lower ages (i.e. children), with potential consequences for urban and aggregate economic growth. The other project is about how housing and transportation technologies have promoted fast urbanization in low-income countries and whether international organizations should help these countries use even better technologies.

For the Cities of Children project, I’m collecting data on the age-sex structure for cities in the 1990s, 2000s, 2010s, and sometimes, even 1980s. I also have to collect data for the urban and rural age structure of countries in the 1950s and onward. My main source is usually the Population Census, but sometimes the country either did not have a Census in a certain decade or the information is not available at the city level or at the urban/rural level. If this is the case, I then have to look for other sources online. I’ve had to go to the Library of Congress a few times to look at the Census books to collect the data.



For the Urban Technologies project, I have to collect data on the mean square footage per housing unit or per capita for the city in the 2000s or 2010s for the 20 largest cities of “big” countries. Sometimes this is available in the Population Census, but sometimes it isn’t. In addition, I have to collect data on the floor area ratio, modes of transportation and their costs, household earnings and rent for the top 100 largest cities by 2030. Finding all this information is not always as easy as it seems, and I have to look at different sources on the internet.

What does your own, individual research project entail?
My own research is about the determinants of household recycling rates in New York City and seeks to answer if NYC’s efforts to increase household waste recycling have been successful. I started my research project in January, so I had already collected all my data. This summer, I started doing the economic analysis by running regressions using socioeconomic data, weather data, and labor data. My faculty mentor, Professor Arun Malik, and I had weekly meetings where we would discuss the results and the next steps. I have also been in touch with people in NYC that could give me more information on the recycling program in the city.

What impact do you hope your research will have?
There have been only a small number of studies examining the determinants of household recycling, but they rely on self-reported estimates by households of their recycling efforts. My research uses data from New York's Department of Sanitation and would be the first to study NYC’s recycling program since it was revitalized in 2013, using up-to-date econometric techniques. Hopefully, I will provide a better understanding of the factors that promote and hinder household recycling.

How will this research help you reach your future career aspirations?
I plan on pursuing a PhD in Economics after I graduate from GW, so this research experience is really important. I now understand what it means "to do research" better, and I have also improved my skills as a researcher. Also, this experience has given me a glimpse of what my life could look like in a few years. Finally, as I mentioned previously, it allowed me to explore fields of economics that I didn’t know about, and that I am really interested in, like Urban Economics!

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