Economics - General

Who are Health Economists? What do they do?

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.