Emory Report
October 6, 2008
Volume 61, Number 7



Emory Report homepage  

October 6
, 2008
Health economists mine data on policy

By carol clark

When David Frisvold and Sara Markowitz tell lay people that they are economists, they often get asked: Is the interest rate going to go down? What’s the outlook for the housing market?

“Those are questions that most economists are not working on,” says Markowitz. She and Frisvold joined the faculty in the Department of Economics this fall to launch a program in health economics.

Markowitz, an associate professor, studies health policy topics, such as how taxes affect the consumption of alcohol and cigarettes, and how such taxes can reduce the negative outcomes associated with consumption. Her research suggests that the rate of domestic violence goes down when taxes on alcohol go up. And she has demonstrated an apparent link between higher taxes on cigarettes and lower rates of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

“Each 10 percent increase in the real price of cigarettes reduces the number of SIDS deaths by a range of 6.9 to 7.6

percent,” she wrote in a paper published recently by the Journal of Health Economics.

Markowitz is also researching the mental health effects on women who return to work after giving birth (see her “First Person” article on page 7). “A lot of people have studied the impact on children of mothers who work. I wanted to look at the effects on the women themselves,” she explains.

Frisvold, an assistant professor of economics, was previously a fellow in the Robert Wood Johnson Scholar in Health Policy Research program. He focuses on education and health, and has done research suggesting that participation in the preschool program Head Start reduces the later risk of obesity in adolescents by about 25 percent.

“Head Start is a program that is up for reauthorization every five years,” Frisvold said. “Congress is just starting to focus on the role that Head Start could play in terms of obesity. Hopefully, my work can help inform this debate.”

He is currently studying whether school breakfast programs affect academic achievement.
“Health economics provides many collaborative opportunities with the Rollins School of Public Health, the Global Health Institute, the School of Medicine and the nearby CDC,” said Hashem Dezhbakhsh, chair of economics.

The health economics program is only one facet of the department’s recent growth: This fall, Esfandiar Maasoumi, a leader in the field of econometrics and the editor of Econometrics Review, also joined the faculty. His research interests include measures of welfare and mobility, neural networks and measures of volatility.

Over the summer, the department named Greg Berns distinguished professor of neuroeconomics. Berns, who is also professor of psychiatry and behavioral science in the School of Medicine, recently launched the Center for Neuropolicy at Emory, to explore how the biology of the brain influences decision-making in politics, policy and business.

“We are building on our traditional strengths in law and economics and quantitative economics, while leveraging other resources throughout the University to also become a leader in neuroeconomics, econometrics, development economics and health economics,” Dezhbakhsh said.