Shanthi Nataraj

Photo of Shanthi Nataraj
Director, Labor and Workforce Development Program; Senior Economist; Professor, Pardee RAND Graduate School
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Ph.D. in agricultural and resource economics, University of California, Berkeley; B.S. in environmental engineering, Northwestern University

Media Resources

This researcher is available for interviews.

To arrange an interview, contact the RAND Office of Media Relations at (310) 451-6913, or email

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Shanthi Nataraj is director, Labor and Workforce Development Program, a senior economist at the RAND Corporation, and a professor at the Pardee RAND Graduate School. Her research interests include economic development, labor markets, workforce development, and firm growth.

She recently completed a study examining the integration of Syrian refugees into labor markets in Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon, which includes primary data collection through firm and household surveys as well as focus groups with host nationals and refugees. She also co-led two studies examining informal labor markets in Bangladesh, as well as a study of the impact of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on employment and output in the Gulf States fisheries and tourism industries.

In the area of workforce economics, her recent work includes the development of supply projections for Army and Department of Defense civilian personnel, and an analysis of retention among active duty mental health professionals. She has also examined the effects of trade and industrial policies on employment and productivity growth

Nataraj received her Ph.D. in agricultural and resource economics from the University of California, Berkeley.

Previous Positions

Associate Director, Personnel, Training and Health Program, RAND Arroyo Center

Recent Projects

  • Mutually Beneficial Opportunities for Syrians and Host Countries in Middle Eastern Labor Markets
  • Informal labor markets in Bangladesh
  • Workforce management for Department of Defense, Army civilians
  • Impact of Deepwater Horizon spill on fisheries, tourism industries in the Gulf states
  • Drivers of productivity and employment growth among small firms

Selected Publications

Minhaj Mahmud, Italo Gutierrez, Krishna Kumar, and Shanthi Nataraj, "What Aspects of Formality Do Workers Value? Evidence from a Choice Experiment in Bangladesh," The World Bank Economic Review (forthcoming)

Krishna Kumar, Minhaj Mahmud, Shanthi Nataraj, and Yoonyoung Cho, "Employer and Employee Preferences for Worker Benefits: Evidence from a Matched Survey on the Bangladesh Informal Sector," IZA Discussion Paper No. 12064, 2019

Italo Gutierrez, Krishna Kumar, Minhaj Mahmud, Farzana Munshi, and Shanthi Nataraj, "Transitions Between Informal and Formal Employment: Results from a Worker Survey in Bangladesh," IZA Journal of Development and Migration (forthcoming)

Jeffrey Allen, Shanthi Nataraj, and Tyler Schipper, "Strict Duality and Overlapping Productivity Distributions between Formal and Informal Firms," Journal of Development Economics, 135, 2018

Leslie Martin, Shanthi Nataraj, and Ann Harrison, "In with the Big, Out with the Small: Removing Small-Scale Reservations in India," American Economic Review, 107(2), 2017

Shanthi Nataraj, Francisco Perez-Arce, Sinduja Srinivasan, and Krishna B. Kumar, "The Impact of Labor Market Regulation on Employment in Low-Income Countries: A Meta-Analysis," Journal of Economic Surveys, 28(3), 2014

Ann Harrison, Leslie Martin and Shanthi Nataraj, "Learning Versus Stealing: How Important are Market-Share Reallocations to India's Productivity Growth?" World Bank Economic Review, 27(2), 2013

Shanthi Nataraj, "The Impact of Trade Liberalization on Productivity: Evidence from India's Formal and Informal Manufacturing Sectors," Journal of International Economics, 85, 2011

Recent Media Appearances

Interviews: KCRW - Press Play


  • People walk outside Hostos Community College in the Bronx borough of New York, December 16, 2017, photo by Eduardo Munoz/Reuters

    Community College Enrollment Is Way Down. That Could Be Bad for Economic Recovery

    Enrollment at America's community colleges is down by nearly 10 percent compared with before the pandemic, leaving community colleges in a perilous financial position. Without intervention, these institutions may not weather the storm.

    Nov 17, 2020 The RAND Blog

  • A child attends Miami Community Charter School for the first day of class in Flagler City, Florida, August 31, 2020, photo by Matias J. Ocner/Miami Herald/TNS/ABACA/Reuters

    Schools Need to Be Planning for the Next 9 Months, Not the Next 9 Weeks

    Schools cannot simply wait out this pandemic, nor will short-term planning and ad-hoc infrastructure get them successfully through this academic year. If schools are to minimize educational losses, large-scale investments should be made now.

    Sep 8, 2020 The Hill

  • Children stand on smiley faces to maintain social distancing in the courtyard of a school in Paris, France, May 14, 2020, photo by Benoit Tessier/Reuters

    How to Reopen Schools: Q&A with RAND Experts

    The debate over opening U.S. schools is growing more heated by the day. In this Q&A, RAND researchers discuss the different approaches for reopening, how online learning went in the spring, ways to help disadvantaged students, and more.

    Jul 23, 2020 The RAND Blog

  • Kids playing soccer, photo by FatCamera/Getty Images

    California Could Develop Guidance to Reopen Youth Sports

    There is growing evidence that long-term isolation from school closures has negative impacts on kids' physical and mental health and social development, with impacts potentially lasting for years. Youth sports can help to offset many of these negative impacts. California public health officials could prioritize the development of guidelines that would allow youth sports to reopen safely.

    Jul 22, 2020 The Orange County Register

  • A waitress takes the temperature of customers as restaurants are permitted to offer al fresco dining as part of phase 2 reopening in New York City, June 27, 2020, photo by Andrew Kelly/Reuters

    Learning to Live in a Riskier World

    Even as the public discussion about COVID-19 risk becomes increasingly polarized, many Americans are slowly and quietly balancing the threat of infection against valued daily activities, and learning to live in a riskier world.

    Jul 2, 2020 Orange County Register

  • As phase one of reopening begins in Northern Virginia, a waitress with a face mask serves diners at a restaurant in Alexandria, Virginia, May 29, 2020, photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

    The Wealth Gap Widens

    Whether history considers the current downturn a recession or a depression, it will reinforce the growing inequality in the United States. Navigating this crisis without substantially increasing inequality would require an unwavering commitment to support displaced workers and small-business owners.

    Jun 1, 2020 Los Angeles Times

  • Housekeeper washing the dishes wearing a mask, photo by FG Trade/Getty Images

    Protecting Household Employers and Workers During the COVID-19 Pandemic

    As the federal government extends aid to people put out of work by the COVID-19 pandemic, it could do more to help one group of employers and the vital American workers they employ: hundreds of thousands of nannies, housekeepers, and others employed in private homes.

    Apr 23, 2020 The Hill

  • Temporary closed signage is seen at a store in Manhattan following the outbreak of COVID-19, in New York City, March 15, 2020, photo by Jeenah Moon/Reuters

    The Danger of Converting a Health Crisis into a Financial Crisis

    The impulse to do something to help businesses right now is well-intended, but lending to companies that were highly leveraged pre-crisis is a risky bet. Assistance could be best directed toward sound enterprises that are likely to survive and contribute to boosting the economy in the coming years.

    Apr 13, 2020 CNN

  • Um Akram, a Syrian refugee, creates soap under Jasmine, a project which hires and trains Syrian refugee women to create handicrafts, in Amman, Jordan, July 11, 2016

    As Refugees, Syrian Women Find Liberation in Working

    Syrian refugee women in Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan want opportunities to work. But there are multiple barriers and challenges that limit them. Improving the chances of safe and dignified work opportunities for Syrian women in these countries could yield broad positive social benefits for both the refugee and host communities.

    Feb 19, 2019 United Press International

  • Workers in a textile factory in Turkey

    Syrian Skills: A Missed Opportunity

    Syrian refugees in Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon are finding ways to get by. But many refugees are not able to fully use their skills, and that is a lost opportunity both for the Syrians and the host countries.

    Feb 14, 2019 RealClearWorld

  • A laborer lifts a basket of crushed bricks at a construction site in Dhaka, Bangladesh, May 22, 2014

    Informality and Formality: Two Ends of the Employment Continuum

    The staying power of informal employment in developing countries is a concern, because informal employees (e.g., day laborers) tend to receive lower wages, fewer benefits, and fewer legal protections. How can policymakers improve conditions for informal workers?

    Jan 22, 2016 The World Bank Jobs and Development Blog