Unbiased Analysis of Today's Healthcare Issues

Who are Health Economists? What do they do?

Written By: Jason Shafrin - Mar• 27•08

Most people do not understand what a health economist is. Where do they work? What do they do? How do they spend their time?  How are they trained?

A paper by Morrisey and Cawley (Health Econ 2008) attempts to answer this question. The authors conducted an online survey to achieve a better understanding of what health economists do.


Ninety-three percent of health economists have a Ph.D. A few health economists have an MD (2.6%), an RN (1%) or a JD (<1%) in addition to their PhD. Of those with a Ph.D., 72% have a Ph.D. in Economics. Below are a list of the economics departments that have trained the most health economists in the sample:

Institution Health Economists trained in the sample
Wisconsin 16
Chicago 11
Michigan 9
Yale 9
Harvard 8
Univ. of Washington 8
Maryland 7
Stanford 6
UC-Berkeley 6
Boston University 5
Washington Univ. (St. Louis) 5

Seventy-six percent of health economists wrote a health related dissertation, even though 2/3 of graduate programs lacked a formal health economics field. For instance, at UCSD I am writing my dissertation on health economics even though there is not established program.


Where do health economists work? Most work in academia (64%), but a large percentage also work for the government (12%), NGOs (15%) or the private sector (9%). Of those who are academically employed, below is a chart detailing where their principal appointment is located.

Appointment Percentage
Public Health 26%
Medicine 18%
Arts & Science 17%
Business 16%
Public Policy 6%
Other 17%
Total 100%
Economics Dept. 24%

For those who work in public health or medical school about 50% of their salary is made up from funding from external grants and contracts.

Research Interest

Below is a chart detailing the subspecialty of the health economists in the survey.  Respondents could choose multiple options.

Subspeciality Percentage
Behavior of Individuals (e.g.: Labor Econ) 50%
Behavior of Firms (e.g.: Industrial Organization) 34%
Government policies (e.g.: Public Finance) 50%
Health Insurance 48%
Outcomes Research (CEA, CBA, Burden of Illness) 50%
Other 31%

After reading this post, hopefully you now have some idea of who health economists are and what they do.

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Responses are currently closed, but you can trackback from your own site.