Katherine L. Milkman

Katherine L. Milkman
  • Evan C Thompson Endowed Term Chair for Excellence in Teaching
  • Associate Professor of Operations, Information and Decisions

Contact Information

  • office Address:

    3730 Walnut Street
    566 Jon M. Huntsman Hall
    Philadelphia, PA 19104

Research Interests: experimental economics, behavioral economics, judgment and decision making

Links: CV, Personal Website, Wharton People Analytics


Katherine Milkman is the Evan C Thompson Endowed Term Chair for Excellence in Teaching and a tenured associate professor at The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. She holds a secondary appointment at Penn’s Perelman School of Medicine. Her research relies heavily on big data to document the systematic ways people deviate from making optimal choices. Her work has paid particular attention to what produces self-control failures (e.g., under-saving for retirement, exercising too little, eating too much junk food) and how to improve decisions.  In her TEDx talk, she describes her findings about how to change behavior for good. Katherine has also explored race and gender discrimination, focusing on how a decision’s context can alter the manifestation of bias; and, she has examined what types of stories are published and widely-shared in popular periodicals.

Katherine has received numerous awards for her research including an early career award from the Federation of Associations in Behavioral & Brain Sciences. When under 30, Milkman was named one of the world’s top 40 business school professors under 40 by Poets and Quants.  Her dozens of published articles in leading social science journals such as Management Science, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and The Journal of Finance have reached a wide audience through frequent coverage in major media outlets such as NPR, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Financial Times, and Harvard Business Review. She regularly writes op-eds for national newspapers like The New York Times and The Washington Post and her work has been featured repeatedly by Freakonomics Radio.

Katherine has also been recognized with many accolades for her ability to communicate ideas to students. She received the excellence in teaching award for the Wharton undergraduate division in 2015 and 2016, was voted Wharton’s “Iron Prof” by the school’s MBA students for a PechaKucha-style presentation of her research, and was one of ten finalists in 2014 and 2015 for the Anvil Award for Wharton’s most outstanding MBA teacher.

She is an associate editor for the Behavioral Economics Department at Management Science and an elected member of the Society for Judgment and Decision Making’s Executive Board.  Katherine also co-directs the Behavior Change for Good Initiative at the University of Pennsylvania, whose mission was described by this Freakonomics Podcast.

She has worked with numerous organizations on research and/or consulting, including Humana, Google, Wipro, Cummins Engines, the U.S. Department of Defense and the American Red Cross.

Katherine received her undergraduate degree from Princeton University (summa cum laude) in Operations Research and Financial Engineering and her Ph.D. from Harvard University’s joint program in Computer Science and Business.

Twitter: @Katy_Milkman

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Past Courses


    There has been increasing interest in recent years as to how managers make decisions when there is uncertainty regarding the value or likelihood of final outcomes. What type of information do they collect? How do they process the data? What factors influence the decisions? This course will address these issues. By understanding managerial decision processes we may be better able to prescribe ways of improving managerial behavior. Building on recent work in cognitive psychology, students will gain an understanding of the simplified rules of thumb and apparent systematic biases that individuals utilize in making judgments and choices under uncertainty. At the end of the course, students should understand the decision making process more thoroughly and be in a position to become a better manager.


    This course is an intensive introduction to various scientific perspectives on the processes through which people make decisions. Perspectives covered include cognitive psychology of human problem-solving, judgment and choice, theories of rational judgment and decision, and the mathematical theory of games. Much of the material is technically rigorous. Prior or current enrollment in STAT 101 or the equivalent, although not required, is strongly recommended.


    This class provides a high-level introduction to the field of judgment and decision making (JDM) and in-depth exposure to the process of doing research in this area. Throughout the semester you will gain hands-on experience with several different JDM research projects. You will be paired with a PhD student or faculty mentor who is working on a variety of different research studies. Each week you will be given assignments that are central to one or more of these studies, and you will be given detailed descriptions of the research projects you are contributing to and how your assignments relate to the successful completion of these projects. To complement your hands-on research experience, throughout the semester you will be assigned readings from the book Nudge by Thaler and Sunstein, which summarizes key recent ideas in the JDM literature. You will also meet as a group for an hour once every three weeks with the class's faculty supervisor and all of his or her PhD students to discuss the projects you are working on, to discuss the class readings, and to discuss your own research ideas stimulated by getting involved in various projects. Date and time to be mutually agreed upon by supervising faculty and students. the 1CU version of this course will involve approx. 10 hours of research immersion per week and a 10-page paper. The 0.5 CU version of this course will involve approx 5 hours of research immersion per week and a 5-page final paper. Please contact Maurice Schweitzer if you are interested in enrolling in the course: schweitzer@wharton.upenn.edu


    The objective of this 14-week discussion-based seminar for advanced undergraduates is to expose students to cutting-edge research from psychology and economics on the most effective strategies for changing behavior sustainably and for the better (e.g., promoting healthier eating and exercise, encouraging better study habits, and increasing savings rates). The weekly readings cover classic and current research in this area. The target audience for this course is advanced undergraduate students interested in behavioral science research and particularly those hoping to learn about using social science to change behavior for good. Although there are no pre-requisites for this class, it is well-suited to students who have taken (and enjoyed) courses like OIDD 290: Decision Processes, PPE 203/PSYC 265: Behavioral Economics and Psychology, and MKTG 266: Marketing for Social Impact and are interested in taking a deeper dive into the academic research related to promoting behavior change for good. Instructor permission is required to enroll in this course. Please complete the application if interested in registering for this seminar: https://tinyurl.com/penn-bcfg-seminar


    The course is built around lectures reviewing multiple empirical studies, class discussion,and a few cases. Depending on the instructor, grading is determined by some combination of short written assignments, tests, class participation and a final project (see each instructor's syllabus for details).

Awards and Honors

  • William F. O’Dell Award for the Most Impactful 2012 Journal of Marketing Research Article, 2017
  • Finalist for the Thinkers50 Radar Award, 2017
  • Excellence in Teaching Award for the Undergraduate Division at Wharton, 2016
  • Finalist for the Anvil Award for the Most Outstanding MBA Teacher at Wharton, 2015
  • Elected Faculty Marshal for Wharton MBA Class of 2015, 2015
  • Excellence in Teaching Award for the Undergraduate Division at Wharton, 2015
  • Society for Judgment and Decision Making FABBS Early Career Award Winner, 2015
  • Marketing Science Institute Young Scholar, 2015
  • SSRN Honor: Author of One of the 10 Most Downloaded Papers of the Year, 2014
  • Finalist for the Anvil Award for the Most Outstanding MBA Teacher at Wharton, 2014
  • Finalist for the Paul E. Green Award for the Best 2012 Journal of Marketing Research Article, 2013
  • Voted Winner of the Wharton “Iron Prof” Competition, 2013
  • Dorinda and Mark Winkelman Distinguished Scholar Award, 2012
  • Poets & Quants Selection: “World’s Best 40 B-School Professors under the Age of 40”, 2011
  • The Wyss Award from Harvard Business School for Excellence in Doctoral Research, 2008
  • The Willard Thorp Thesis Prize in American Studies from Princeton University, 2004
  • The Lore von Jaskowsky Memorial Prize in Engineering from Princeton University, 2004
  • Omega Rho Undergraduate Project Research Award from INFORMS, 2004

In the News

Knowledge @ Wharton


In the News

Why Top Performers Quit When the Going Gets Tough

When facing adversity, favorites are more likely to walk away than underdogs, new Wharton research finds. The reason: potential embarrassment over not meeting expectations.

Knowledge @ Wharton - 2018/05/1
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Awards and Honors

William F. O’Dell Award for the Most Impactful 2012 Journal of Marketing Research Article 2017
All Awards