Carol Propper is a Professor of Economics at Imperial College London and Professor of Economics of Public Policy at the University of Bristol. She has been Co-Director of the Centre for the Analysis of Social Exclusion, Co-Director and Director of the Centre for Market and Public Organisation, and Chair of the ESRC Research Grants Board. Her current work is exploring the impact of using markets in healthcare delivery.
Why did you pursue an academic career?
I think I got there by mistake. I left university thinking the last thing I wanted to do was postgraduate study, but then got excited by ideas around social mobility - or rather lack thereof in the UK and the USA - and took up a place at Oxford to do a Masters in Social Research Methods. After that I went into economics consultancy, but realised that I really liked pursing things in depth (rather more than my bosses perhaps liked!). So I then went and did a PhD in economics and discovered I loved it and wanted to apply it to areas that many economists didn’t at that time think about: health and education.
What career achievements are you most proud of?
I am proud of setting up the Royal Economics Society committee on women in economics with Denise Osborne and I loved being Chair of the ESRC Research Grants Board, and on ESRC Council. It was such a great honour to be able to help fund really interesting and relevant research.
But the thing I think I am most proud of was being part of establishing the Centre for Market and Public Organisation at the University of Bristol. Its focus on issues at the boundaries of the state are the issues I have researched most of my academic career. My colleagues and the younger researchers who’ve been part of the centre have been wonderful people to work with, and I have loved the excitement of being part of teams containing people who are experts in their fields and people just starting their academic careers.
What is the most important issue society is facing today?
I think there are several. One has to be climate change and the implications for millions of people across the globe of increasing variability in climate and the implications that has for water, food and the environment. A second has to be migration. And a third has to be the widening of inequality that seems to follow technological change and the implications for aspirations, social cohesion and the long-term sustainability of welfare state systems.
What do you feel is the most important finding of economics and social science over the past 50 years?
When I was Chair of the ESRC Research Grants Board I found myself excited by ideas across a huge range of fields in social sciences; social science seems to be full of people with amazing ideas and energy. Within economics, I think it has to be the recognition that information is imperfect – that seemed to me to change economics from a very dull subject to one that addresses so many important issues.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of the ESRC.