21 Questions with Dean Yang

photo of Dean YangDean Yang, a PSC Research Associate Professor who has been affiliated with the Center since 2010, is an Associate Professor holding appointments in U-M’s Department of Economics and Ford School of Public Policy.

Yang’s current research focuses primarily on financial services for the poor, international migration, and areas at the intersection of these topics, including migrant remittances, financial decision-making among the poor, technology adoption, and behavioral biases in economic decision-making. In the past he has also worked on health, disasters and risk, international trade, and crime and corruption.

His past and current field project locations include El Salvador, Guatemala, Indonesia, Malawi, Mozambique, and the Philippines, as well as migrant populations of Filipinos in Italy, Indians in Qatar, and Salvadorans and Kenyans in the U.S.

Methodologically, much of Yang’s work involves randomized controlled trials in field settings, but other work involves unearthing novel data sources and combining them with existing secondary datasets for analyses of development issues. He is currently running survey work and field experiments among Filipino migrant workers and their families, and among rural microloan clients in Malawi and the Philippines.

His work on encouraging savings among Indian migrant workers in Qatar has received recent attention in the media.

Yang and his colleague Ganesh Seshan (Georgetown University) had UAE financial guru K.V. Shamsudheen deliver a short motivational talk on financial decision making to a group of these Indian migrants. Published in the May 2014 issue of the Journal of Development Economics, the study found positive impacts on savings among migrants who had low savings levels prior to the study.

“This was a Simple one-time talk that had a big impact,” says Yang. “Even though there wasn’t much technical information, the session motivated migrants to save more.”

photo of Dean Yang


1. First job? I worked at McDonald’s for a summer when I was 15.
2. First website you access in the morning? nytimes.com
3. Recently read book? Back to back, and inspired by each other, I read Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood and Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird.
4. First music you ever bought? Duran Duran’s “Seven and the Ragged Tiger.”
5. Current favorite vacation destination? Istanbul, Turkey (which my wife Sharon and I visited in 2013).
6. What makes you laugh out loud? Videos of mistakes people make on game shows, which my 10-year old daughter Lana can’t get enough of. Example from Family Feud: “Name a yellow vegetable.” Answer: “Orange!”
7. If you had a time machine, where and when would you visit? The future. Maybe the 24th century.
8. If you could have any three dinner companions? Norman Borlaug (father of the green revolution); Haruki Murakami (novelist and marathon runner); and Jake Shimabukuro (virtuoso ukelele player).
9. If you could trade places with any person for a day? Jake Shimabukuro. As long as I could get in his head (a la “Being John Malkovich”) and get to experience how he plays the uke.
10. What super power would you like to have? Super-speed. And the ability to be in two places at once!
11. Life-changing moment? I got a scholarship to go to the International School Manila starting in 6th grade. Not sure if I would have ended up coming to college in the US (and going to economics grad school, etc.) if not for that.
12. Mind you’d most like to read? Vladimir Putin. I would guess I’m not alone on this one right now!
13. Best award you ever won? Plastic trophy for first place in my age group (40-44) in the Crystal Lake Firecracker 5k run in 2013!
14. If money were no object, what would like to finance? A big development research lab or university, perhaps somewhere in Africa.
15. Memorable movie line or song lyric? “What choo talkin’ ‘bout, Willis?” from Diff’rent Strokes
16. Favorite room in home? The sauna, which we built last year just in time for the polar vortex.
17. Guilty pleasure? Single-malt scotch. That, and toasted peanut butter, honey, and banana sandwiches.
18. Fitness workout? Running. Aiming to do my first marathon this coming October.
19. If you could choose another career? Probably something related to international development, but not on the research side. Running a development non-profit, or being part of one of the big international development organizations.
20. What do you like about your work? Wrestling with some of the most difficult questions on the planet regarding how to make a dent in global poverty.
21. Where do you see yourself in ten years? Doing more of the same that I’ve been doing in the past 10 years – development economics research!

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