Social Sciences

Love, Wealth, and Taxes

Econ majors go big, win Meier award.

By David James ’19 | September 21, 2017

How do prenuptial agreements affect wealth inequality? And how do US states uses tax rates to compete with each other?

Those are the central questions examined by the two seniors who won the Gerald M. Meier Award for Distinction in Economics this year, Helena Pedrotti ’17 and Xian Ng ’17.

Both students pursued an interdisciplinary course of study, combining mathematics heavily into their thesis research and undergraduate careers. While department chair Prof. Jeff Parker did not directly oversee either thesis, he praised their hard work during their time at Reed. “Both were extraordinary students in many dimensions: coursework, thesis, and work in the department as tutors and research assistants,” he says.

“I was really surprised and honored to receive this year's Meier award,” says Helena, whose thesis focused on the effect of prenuptial agreements on wealth inequality in the United States. She found that after the legalization of prenups, overall wealth inequality increased because, as she explains, “the richer people were better able to preserve their wealth.”

“I'm both honored and humbled by receiving the award,” says Xian. His thesis was about finding cooperation or competition between U.S. states over tax policy. His conclusion? “States do not appear to adjust their policies to react to neighboring competitor states,” he says, “but tend to follow the lead of the federal government.”  

It’s no surprise that both intend to pursue PhDs in economics. “I'm interested in economics in relation to policymaking,” says Xian, who is currently working as an economics research assistant at the University of Chicago.

“I am currently in a two year research fellowship program at Stanford,” Helena imparts, “doing research with faculty members here and taking courses in graduate economics.”

The Meier Award honors the prominent development economist Jerry Meier ’47.

Tags: Awards & Achievements, The Reed Thesis, Students