Heather Schofield

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

Contact Information

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. 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.

Continue Reading


  • Emma Dean, Frank Schilbach, Heather Schofield (Forthcoming), Poverty and Cognitive Function.

    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.

  • 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. 

  • Heather Schofield, George Loewenstein, Jessica Kopsic, Kevin Volpp (2015), Comparing the Effectiveness of Individualistic, Altruistic, and Competitive Incentives in Motivating Completion of Mental Exercises, Journal of Health Economics .

    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.


I teach “Microeconomics for Managers” (MGEC 611 and 612), offered annually in the fall, in the Business Economics and Public Policy Department.

Past Courses


    HCMG 890-001: This course examines issues related to the Services Sector of thehealth care industry. For those interested in management, investing, or bankingto 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 will be 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 buyout 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 841. Health Care Management MBA majors only Senior healthcare executives and policy leaders will be engaged as guest speakers.


    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. Finally, we will wrap up game theory with an application to auctions. Students are expected to have mastered these materials before enrolling in the second quarter course: Microeconomics for Managers: Advanced Applications.


    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

In the News

Knowledge @ Wharton


Latest Research

Emma Dean, Frank Schilbach, Heather Schofield (Forthcoming), Poverty and Cognitive Function.
All Research

In the News

Why Mental Bandwidth Could Explain the Psychology Behind Poverty

Recent Wharton research finds that poor people may lack the mental bandwidth necessary to make good choices.

Knowledge @ Wharton - 2016/12/28
All News

Awards and Honors

Roger Martin Award for Excellence in Business Economics Research, Harvard Business School 2013
All Awards