When Catherine Ruth Pakaluk received her Ph.D. in economics in 2010 from Harvard University, it was an easy decision to accept a job offer from Ave Maria University. Besides the evident personal attractions—such as living in a terrific community just a bike-ride away from campus, where it would be easy to raise her six young children, aged 2 to 11—she was attracted to the possibilities that exist for academic work in a genuinely Catholic university. “At AMU the natural human family is taken seriously by the social sciences,” she commented. “There are abundant opportunities for discoveries in areas yet uncharted.”
That is why almost immediately upon arriving at Ave Maria she founded the Stein Center for Social Research, a non-partisan, interdisciplinary center for advanced studies in the social sciences, especially economics, sociology, and psychology. The Stein Center aims to understand the most pressing social questions related to personality, gender, marriage and family formation, fertility and demography, and the institutions in society which assist the family in its mission to form persons—especially schools and churches.
“Exciting research informs inspiring teaching, and vice versa,” Dr. Pakaluk remarked, “and from that conviction an important part of the Stein Center is an elite student research group for young scholars interested in working on projects of social importance.” In a playful tribute to statistical theory, the group is called the Standard Error Society.
Dr. Pakaluk invites her students to think hard about social problems and the nature of human rationality and choice. She encourages them to bring their distinctively Christian view of nature and the human person to the classroom as they begin to learn the fundamentals of economic modeling and applied statistics. “It’s easy to write a good policy. It’s hard to write a good policy for human beings,” she tells them. “The history of social policy in the United States is a history of unintended consequences, of failing to predict how rational human beings will respond to incentives and change. It turns out to be enormously difficult to figure it out—and requires building rigorous and accurate models of what motivates people, both individually and in the aggregate. Therefore, how you understand the person has everything to say about how you will think about policy.” Dr. Pakaluk teaches courses in Statistics, Family & Society, Public Economics & Public Policy, Labor Economics & the Economics of Poverty, Education & Religion in America, and Catholic Social Thought.
Most recently, Dr. Pakaluk has been developing an undergraduate program in Family and Society. The program consists of an academic minor in Family and Society, together with a service requirement and an optional research component. Students in the program study the fundamentals of statistics, with a solid introduction to the best research and data on the family in American society, and a careful analysis of supporting institutions. The immensely popular course on Christian Marriage taught by Dr. Michael Waldstein, world-renowned expert on the Theology of the Body of John Paul II, is a key component in the program. “The family as a natural and supernatural reality provides an explicit orientation to our study of gender. Currently, there are other Catholic schools where one can study the family from a theological and pastoral perspective. But ours may be the first where one can study the family through the lens of contemporary social science, together with a foundation in the theological science of the family.” Professor Pakaluk sees the program in Family and Society as an attractive complement to disciplinary major studies in psychology, economics, politics, history, theology, or any of the other academic majors that Ave Maria has to offer. “It’s a major strength of a young institution,” she says. “We can dream about what a Catholic education should really be like, and we can make that happen. With the world-class faculty that we have here, and the quality of students who come here, there’s very little we can’t dream about.”
In addition to her research and teaching, Dr. Pakaluk actively lectures and consults around the country in various academic and scholarly settings. She is married to Dr. Michael Pakaluk, Chairman and Professor of Philosophy at Ave Maria University.