Congratulations to 2006 and 2007 SMU PhD alums Dipa and Jay Sarkar for receiving the 2019 best paper prize in health economics awarded by the Australian Health Economics Society! This is a biennial prize open to Australian based researchers. Their paper “What does attending early childhood program mean for child health in India?” was published in Health Economics in 2017.
I recently spoke with Dipa about their paper and their time at SMU.
James Lake: Thanks for talking with me Dipa. Can you explain what your paper is about?
Dipa Sarkar: Thanks for reaching out to me James! The motivation for our paper was the idea that attending early childhood programs in developing countries may have very different impacts on child health compared to that observed in developed countries and was worth investigating. Our paper focused on India and we looked at children over time to see how preschool attendance impacted their health outcomes. We were particularly interested in seeing whether any such impact depended on the child’s position in the distribution of health outcomes.
James Lake: Wow, I never thought about how child health outcomes might differ between developed and developing countries when it comes to preschool attendance. What did you find?
Dipa Sarkar: Indeed, we found an adverse effect emerges in the early years between ages 1 and 5 despite the fact that it tends to be the healthier children who actually attend preschool. The impact is found to be more robust on some measures, like being underweight, than others, like stunting. The good news is these growth-retarding effects seem to be short run effects which are reversed in the longer term at age 8.
James Lake: Very interesting. What do you think is driving this, at least for me, unexpected result?
Dipa Sarkar: At least to some extent, we find it attributable to “over-attendance”. This could be in the form of long daily hours, excessive attendance days, or early entry.
James Lake: So, what do you take away as the policy implications Dipa?
Dipa Sarkar: Well, health setbacks in early life are widely believed to have irreversible implications for a range of adult outcomes. So, we think that improving the quality of early childhood programs should be a primary goal for policymakers in India and other developing countries.
James Lake: Yes, this is a very important issue since children in developing countries are already starting from a more disadvantaged position than children in developed countries. Changing topics, who supervised your dissertations here in Econ department at SMU?
Dipa Sarkar: Dan Millimet was my main supervisor and Thomas Osang was Jay’s main supervisor.
James Lake: That makes sense. Dan was the one who forwarded me his tweet congratulating the both of you on your award. Can you tell me a bit about your time at SMU?
Dipa Sarkar: I’m happy to! SMU laid the foundation of our academic life and current careers. But the experience at SMU has also influenced how we evolved in our personal lives because this is where we embarked on another new journey, that of a newly-married couple in a new country
Those 6 years shaped our lives today in so many ways – as colleagues at Queensland University of Technology, coauthors, and still as a couple! Drawing on our experience at SMU provides a constant source of inspiration for us, from mentoring our PhD students to organising conferences.
There was never a boring moment, and there was endless ‘firsts’ – delivering the first lecture, reading books on theology while working at the Bridwell library, mentoring high school students in Science camp at SMU, and getting to watch endless free movies from CMIT.
We remain grateful to all our professors and other staff members who created a home away from home for us and provided a solid start to our careers.
James Lake: Glad to hear such positive things about our department! While both of you graduated before I joined in Fall 2012, I hope to see both of you sometime soon in Australia.
Dipa Sarkar: Of course James, we’d love to host you for a seminar sometime when you’re back visiting your family.