Yiwen Cheng was born in Beijing. When she was twelve, she moved to the suburbs of Los Angeles to live with a host family while her family stayed in China. Her parents believed that sending her to study in the U.S. would lead to more opportunities for her in the future.
Yiwen graduated from UC Berkeley in May 2009. Her undergraduate degree was in Economics and Applied Math, with a minor in French. She likes Berkeley so much that she decided to stay here to pursue a PhD in Economics!
Yiwen started taking some Economics intro classes here at Berkeley as an undergraduate. As a sophomore she took a development class with Professor Ted Miguel. She was excited to see how econometric analysis can tell us something meaningful about important real world issues. —like how does subsidizing a deworming project in Tanzania help to raise school attendance? Do dewormed kids have better educational outcomes?
Yiwen has always been interested in development questions. She is particularly interested in the incorporation of psychological realism into economic models. For example, classical economics models assume that people plan from day one and maximize utility, that they do what is best for them. This also assumes that they know what is best for them. But in reality, that might not be the case. People often even do what they know in the long run might hurt them. Current demands on their time might carry more weight than long-term planning.
She is also interested in how corruption affects economic growth. That can be centralized corruption through a dictatorship or a central party —as is the case for China, Indonesia —or it can be corruption at lower levels.
Yiwen's undergraduate thesis was a study of US companies in Peru during the Fujimori regime. She looked at stock market reactions of US companies with significant investment in Peru at the time that Fujimori [President of Peru from 1990-2000] unexpectedly announced his resignation. She wanted to use this event-study method to see if American companies received concessions or favors from the notoriously corrupt regime. She examined US companies specifically because the de facto leader in Peru at that time was Montesino [head of Peru’s intelligence service under Fujimori], and he had ties to the CIA dating to the 1970s.
Yiwen found a list of US companies that had “extensive investment” in Peru. Her data consisted of sixty-plus companies, and I found negative stock returns among these multinationals. She surmises that stock prices dropped because Fujimori announced that he was resigning and investors who knew of the political connections sold their shares.
Beyond economics, Yiwen enjoys swing dancing! --especially the Lindy Hop.