Heather Schofield

Heather Schofield
  • Assistant Professor, Department of Medical Ethics and Health Policy

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Research Interests: behavioral economics, development economics, health economics

Links: CV, Medical Ethics and Health Policy website


Dr. Heather Schofield is an Assistant Professor in the Perelman School of Medicine and The Wharton School. Dr. Schofield is an economist studying development, health, and behavioral economics. Dr. Schofield completed her Ph.D. in Business Economics, MS in Global Health and Population, and BA in Economics at Harvard University.

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Please visit my personal webpage for the most up to date working papers.

  • Heather Schofield (Working), Ramadan Fasting and Economic Output.

    Abstract: Religion remains an important force in the lives of many individuals, with approximately 85 percent of the world’s population expressing some religious belief. Yet, the literature on religion’s impact on economic outcomes remains relatively sparse, driven in part by challenges around identification. This paper explores one element of religion’s impact on economic outcomes by examining the impact of the observance of Ramadan on economic output of farmers in India. The analysis leverages heterogeneity in cropping cycles between and within districts as well as the fact that Ramadan cycles throughout the calendar year to generate three sources of variation in the overlap between Ramadan and the labor intensive portions of the cropping cycle. Using a difference-in-differences-in-differences approach, I find that overlap between Ramadan and the labor intensive portions of cropping cycles results in declines in production which correspond to approximately 1 percent of agricultural GDP in India annually and a 20 to 40 percent decrease in productivity per fasting individual. These changes appear to be driven by changes in labor productivity and are not substantially compensated for via other potential margins of adjustment such as increased draft labor. Although identification is less precise, additional analyses suggest that productivity declines are driven primarily by reduced caloric intake rather than by other behavioral changes during Ramadan.

  • Pedro Bessone, Gautam Rao, Frank Schilbach, Heather Schofield, Mattie Toma (Working), Sleepless in Chennai: The Consequences of Increasing Sleep among the Urban Poor.

    Abstract: One-third of our time is dedicated to sleep, yet little is known about the levels and consequences of sleep deprivation, especially in the developing world. To begin to address this gap, this paper measures the prevalence and consequences of sleep deprivation among the urban poor in India via an RCT.  Low-income adults in Chennai sleep little and poorly: 5.6 hours of objectively-measured sleep per night, despite 8 hours in bed. Their sleep can be increased substantially: three-week randomized treatments providing simple devices, encouragement, and financial incentives increased sleep by over 30 minutes per night. Offering short naps at the workplace in the afternoon also increased daily sleep. However, increased  night sleep had no detectable effects on cognition, productivity, economic decision-making, or physical health, and led to small decreases in labor supply.  In contrast, naps improved cognition, subjective well-being, and labor productivity. Naps also reduced inattention to incentives and present bias, and increased financial savings. Our results provide a possible explanation for the persistence of widespread sleep deprivation and the relatively high prevalence of afternoon naps in many developing countries.

  • Emma Dean, Frank Schilbach, Heather Schofield (2018), Poverty and Cognitive Function, The Economics of Poverty Traps.

    Abstract: This paper is a primer for economists interested in the relationship between poverty and cognitive function. We begin by discussing a set of underlying aspects of cognitive function relevant to economic decision-making – attention, inhibitory control, memory, and higherorder cognitive functions – including descriptions of validated tasks to measure each of these areas. Next, we review literature that investigates channels through which poverty might impact cognitive function and economic behavior, by discussing already existing knowledge as well as less well-researched areas that warrant further exploration. We then highlight ways in which the different aspects of cognitive function may impact economic outcomes, discussing both theoretical models and empirical evidence. Finally, we conclude with a discussion of open research questions and directions for future research.

  • Frank Schilbach, Heather Schofield, Sendhil Mullainathan (2016), The Psychological Lives of the Poor, American Economic Review, Papers & Proceedings.

    Abstract: All individuals rely on a fundamental set of mental capacities and functions, or bandwidth, in their economic and non-economic lives. Yet, many factors associated with poverty, such as malnutrition, alcohol consumption, or sleep deprivation, may tax this capacity. Previous research has demonstrated that such taxes often significantly alter judgments, preferences, and decision-making. A more suggestive but growing body of evidence points toward potential effects on productivity and utility. Considering the lives of the poor through the lens of bandwidth may improve our understanding of potential causes and consequences of poverty.

  • Heather Schofield, J. Kopsic, Kevin Volpp, George Loewenstein (2015), Comparing the effectiveness of individualistic, altruistic, and competitive incentives in motivating completion of mental exercises, Journal of Health Economics, 44, pp. 286-299.

    Abstract: This study examines the impact of individually oriented, purely altruistic, and a hybrid of competitive and cooperative monetary reward incentives on older adults’ completion of cognitive exercises and cognitive function. We find that all three incentive structures approximately double the number of exercises completed during the six-week active experimental period relative to a no incentive control condition. However, the altruistic and cooperative/competitive incentives led to different patterns of participation, with significantly higher inter-partner correlations in utilization of the software, as well as greater persistence once incentives were removed. Provision of all incentives significantly improved performance on the incentivized exercises. However, results of an independent cognitive testing battery suggest no generalizable gains in cognitive function resulted from the training.

  • Heather Schofield (Working), The Economic Costs of Low Caloric Intake: Evidence from India.

    Abstract: Many of the world’s poor consume very few calories; one-seventh of the world’s population remains below recommended intake levels. Yet, the impact of this nominally low caloric intake on productivity is unclear. This paper presents two analyses which find that changes in caloric intake result in substantial and broadly generalizable changes in productivity among malnourished adults in India. The first draws on a five-week randomized controlled trial among cycle-rickshaw drivers in Chennai, in which half of the participants received an additional 700 calories per day. Treated individuals showed significant improvements in both physical and cognitive tasks and increased labor supply and income by approximately 10 percent by the final week. The second study examines the impact of a 700 calorie per day decline in intake, caused by fasting during Ramadan, on agricultural production. This analysis leverages heterogeneity in cropping cycles between and within districts as well as the fact that Ramadan cycles throughout the calendar year to generate three sources of variation in the overlap between fasting and the labor intensive portions of the cropping cycle. Using a triple-difference approach, I find that overlap between Ramadan and the labor intensive portions of cropping cycles results in declines in production which correspond to a 20 to 40 percent decrease in productivity per fasting individual. Multiple sources of evidence suggest that production declines are driven primarily by reduced caloric intake rather than by other behavioral changes during Ramadan. The estimated return to investment in additional calories is positive, with point estimates of 75 percent over six months in the randomized trial and 225 percent over one month during Ramadan fasting. Given substantial evidence that traditionally hypothesized liquidity constraints do not meaningfully limit caloric consumption, the low caloric intake of the majority of Indian adults presents a puzzle in light of the high estimated returns. Responses from an incentivized survey suggest that inaccurate beliefs about both the returns to calories and the caloric content of foods may play a role in the low levels of caloric consumption. 


I teach “Microeconomics for Managers” (MGEC 611 and 612) and “Challenges and Opportunities in Africa: Healthcare and business of Ethiopia” (HCMG 890, with Zeke Emmanuel).

All Courses

  • BEPP2990 - Independent Study

  • BEPP9410 - Development Economics

    This course will cover current microeconomic issues of developikng countries including poverty, risk, savings, human capital, and institutions. We will also explore the causes and consequences of market failures that are common in many developing countries with a focus on credit, land, and labor markets. The course is designed to introduce recent research with focus on empirical methods and testing theories with data.

  • HCMG8900 - Advanced Study Project

    HCMG 8900-001: This course examines issues related to the Services Sector of the health care industry. For those interested in management, investing, or banking in the health care industry, the services sector will likely be the largest and most dynamic sector within all of health care. We will study key management issues related to a number of different health care services businesses with a focus on common challenges related to reimbursement, regulatory, margin, growth, and competitive issues. We will look at a number of different businesses and subsectors that may have been unfamiliar to students prior to taking the course. We will make extensive use of outside speakers, many of whom are true industry leaders within different sectors of the health care services industry. Speakers will address the current management issues they face in running their businesses as well as discuss the career decisions and leadership styles that enables them to reach the top of their profession. Students will be asked to develop a plan to both buy out and manage a specific health care services business of their choosing and will present their final plans to a panel of leading Health Care Private Equity investors who will evaluate their analysis. Prerequisites: HCMG 8410. Health Care Management MBA majors only

  • MGEC6110 - Microeconomics For Manag

    This course establishes the micro-economic foundations for understanding business decision-making. The course will cover consumer theory and market demand under full information, market equilibrium and government intervention, production theory and cost optimization, producing in perfectly competitive and monopoly markets, vertical relations, and game theory, including simultaneous, sequential, and infinitely repeated games. Students are expected to have mastered these materials before enrolling in the second quarter course: Microeconomics for Managers: Advanced Applications.

  • MGEC6120 - Microecon For Mgr - Adv.

    This course will cover the economic foundations of business strategy and decision-making in market environments with other strategic actors and less than full information, as well as advanced pricing strategies. Topics include oligopoly models of market competition, creation, and protection, sophisticated pricing strategies for consumers with different valuations or consumers who buy multiple units (e.g. price discrimination, bundling, two-part tariffs), strategies for managing risk and making decisions under uncertainty, asymmetric information and its consequences for markets, and finally moral hazard and principle-agent theory with application to incentive contacts.

Awards and Honors

  • Roger Martin Award for Excellence in Business Economics Research, Harvard Business School, 2013
  • Harvard University Graduate Fellowship, 2008-2014
  • Harvard School of Public Health Department of Global Health and Population Thesis Prize, 2007
  • Jacob K. Javits Fellowship Commended Scholar, 2006-2007
  • Thomas E. Upham Harvard Class of 1868 Merit Scholarship, 2005-2006
  • NCAA Postgraduate Merit Scholarship, 2005-2006

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Heather Schofield (Working), Ramadan Fasting and Economic Output.
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Why India’s V-Shaped Economic Recovery Falls Short

Headlines about India’s encouraging economic indicators mask the ground realities, according to new research co-authored by Wharton’s Heather Schofield. Read More

Knowledge at Wharton - 12/1/2020
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White female spends time with Ethiopian studentsLessons This Healthcare Management Student Took Away from a Trip to Ethiopia

Misha Nasrollahzadeh, WG’20, recalls how a Global Modular Course trip to Ethiopia with her healthcare management class helped broaden her perspective on healthcare and innovation….

Wharton Stories - 06/12/2019
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