Heather Schofield, PhD

Scholar

  •  Assistant Professor, Medical Ethics and Health Policy | University of Pennsylvania
  •  India | Bangladesh
  •   Health economics | Nutrition | Sleep | Social determinants of health

Languages: English (native)

Bio statement

Dr. Schofield is an economist studying development, health, and behavioral economics. Two primary ongoing areas of research include the role of health human capital (nutrition, pain management, adequate sleep) in economic productivity, cognitive function, and decision-making and the role of financial and social incentives in promoting healthy behaviors. Dr. Schofield completed her Ph.D. in Business Economics, MS in Global Health and Population, and BA in Economics at Harvard University.

Recent global health projects

Project 1: Migration is necessary for economic mobility among many of the world’s poor. Yet, rates of internal migration are much lower than predicted given the substantial wage premium and opportunities for skill acquisition available in urban areas. While many potential reasons for this puzzle have been examined, much of the gap remains unexplained. In this research we explore a potentially important but understudied driver of low migration rates: loneliness and social isolation. In order to generate rigorous causal evidence on the relationship between economic advancement through migration and loneliness, we will conduct a randomized controlled trial (RCT) with garment factory workers in India. The RCT will introduce two interventions to address social isolation and loneliness: 1) social support from a senior mentor, and 2) cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). We will evaluate impacts of the interventions on loneliness and other aspects of mental health, productivity, retention, remittances, savings, physical health, and female empowerment. This work will provide rigorous evidence on scalable interventions to address a growing public health epidemic and shed light on a long standing puzzle in development economics, increasing economic opportunities for disadvantaged populations such as young women in India by reducing the costs of migration.

Project 2: The poor suffer disproportionally from poor mental and physical health. Many causes for these disparities have been considered, including low income. But, poor families’ incomes are not only low, but also often unstable and unpredictable. This instability creates uncertainty about whether they will be able to safeguard their future wellbeing. According to the allostatic load framework, prolonged activation of physiological stress responses will cause “wear and tear” on the body, heightening risks of cardiovascular disease and of age-related metabolic diseases, promoting cognitive decline and dementia, and accelerating cellular aging.

This study will assess the causal effects of income instability on the psychological and physical health of the poor. Our specific aims are to: 1) Identify the causal effect of income instability on psychological health (e.g. depression, anxiety), biomarkers of stress (e.g. cortisol), and physical health (e.g. blood pressure), 2) Decompose the effects identified in aim 1 into the effects of predictable and unpredictable instability and compare to the impact of increasing the average level of income, and 3) Investigate the channels through which effects on health occur, including both economic and behavioral channels and estimate the impact of key moderating factors (e.g. age, gender, baseline mental health). The trial will be conducted in southwestern Bangladesh. We will manipulate income instability by varying the number of work hours (and hence earnings) of participants in a cash-for-work program.


Selected publications

Rao, G., Redline, S., Schilbach, F., Schofield, H., & Toma, M. (2021). Informing sleep policy through field experiments. Science, 374(6567), 530-533.

https://www.science.org/doi/abs/10.1126/science.abk2594

Schilbach F, Schofield H, and Mullainathan S (2016). "The Psychological Lives of the Poor." American Economic Review, Papers and Proceedings, 106(5): 435-40. doi: 10.1257/aer.p20161101.