Pietro Biroli

Who:     I am an associate professor of economics interested in health and human capital formation.

What:    My research fields are health economics, social science genomics, and applied micro. 

WhereUniversity of Bologna, department of economics

Why:      For more info, you can contact me at pietro.biroli [at] unibo.it

My CV, google scholar profile, ORCid, and github

My twitter @pietrobiroli


I am an associate professor of economics at the University of Bologna. I obtained my PhD in economics from the University of Chicago, and then was UBS Foundation Assistant Professor of Applied Economics at the University of Zurich. I am a research affiliate at the Jacobs Center for Productive Youth Development at UZH, IZA, fRDB, HCEO, CHILD, CAGE, CEPR, and CESifo.


My research focuses on the early origins and life cycle evolution of health and human capital. I explore the importance of genetics, family investment, and early childhood interventions in explaining health and economic inequality. With my work, I aim to understand the mechanisms through which effective policy interventions and optimal choices of investment can help mitigate innate inequalities and promote health and human capital development.


More broadly, I am interested in Health Economics, Applied Econometrics, and Social Science Genetics.


Sevim, Baranov, Bhalotra, Maselko, & Biroli, 

Trajectories of Early Childhood Skill Development and Maternal Mental Health

in Journal of Human Resources, 1222-12693R3; (2023)

(IZA working paper)

Koellinger, Okbay, Kweon, Schweinert, Karlsson Linnér, Goebel, Richte, Reiber, Zweck, Belsky, Biroli, Mata, Tucker-Drob, Harden, Wagner, & Hetwig, 

Cohort profile: Genetic data in the German Socio-Economic Panel Innovation Sample (SOEP-G)

in Plos one, 18(11), p.e0294896. (2023)

(bioRxiv working paper)

van Kippersluis, Biroli, Dias Pereira, Galama, von Hinke, Meddens, Muslimova, Slob, de Vlaming, & Rietveld, 

Overcoming attenuation bias in regressions using polygenic indices.

In Nature Communications (2023)

(bioRxiv working paper, code)

Bierut, Biroli, Galama, & Thom,

Challenges in studying the interplay of genes and environment. A study of childhood financial distress moderating genetic predisposition for peak smoking.

In Journal of Economic Psychology. (2023)

(bioRxiv working paper)

Dias Pereira, Biroli, Galama, von Hinke, van Kippersluis, Rietveld, & Thom, 

Gene–Environment Interplay in the Social Sciences.

In Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Economics and Finance. Oxford University Press. (2022)

(arXiv working paper)

Baranov, Frost, Hagaman, Simmons, Manzoor, Biroli, Bhalotra, Rahman, Sikander, Maselko, 

Effects of a maternal psychosocial intervention on hair derived biomarkers of HPA axis function in mothers and children in rural Pakistan.

SSM - Mental Health, 100082. (2022)

Biroli, Bosworth, Della Giusta, Di Girolamo, Jaworska, & Vollen, 

Family Life in Lockdown.

Frontiers in Psychology, 12, 3259 (2021)

(HCEO working paper, data and code, slides, media: Altmetric)

Demange, Malanchini, Mallard, Biroli, Cox, Grotzinger, Tucker-Drob, Abdellaoui, Arseneault, Caspi, Corcoran, Domingue, Mitchell, van Bergen, Boomsma, Harris, Moffitt, Poulton,  Prinz, Sugden, Wertz, Williams, de Zeeuw, Belsky, Harden, Nivard,

Investigating the Genetic Architecture of Non-Cognitive Skills Using GWAS-by-Subtraction

Nature Genetics.  53, 35–44 (2021) 

(FAQ, factsheet, bioRxiv working paper, code, tutoria for GWAS by subtraction , noncog and cog sumstats, media: Altmetric)

Biroli, Boneva, Raja, Rauh,

Parental Beliefs about Returns to Child Health Investments.

Journal of Econometrics, ISSN 0304-4076. (2020).

(IZA working paper, data and code)

Maselko, Sikander, Turner, Bates, Ahmad, Atif, Baranov, Bhalotra, Bibi, Bibi, Bilal, Biroli, Chung, Gallis, Hagaman, Jamil, Lemasters, & Donnell,

Effectiveness of a peer-delivered , psychosocial intervention on maternal depression and child development at 3 years postnatal : a cluster randomised trial in Pakistan.

The Lancet Psychiatry, 7(9), 775–787. (2020). 

(preprint, media: PlumX)

Baranov, Bhalotra, Biroli, & Maselko, 

Maternal Depression, Women’s Empowerment, and Parental Investment: Evidence from a Randomized Controlled Trial.

American Economic Review, 110 (3): 824-59. (2020).

(IZA working paper, data and code, slides, econimate video, Media: The Guardian, The Economist, AER Highlights)

Maselko, Hagaman, Bates, Bhalotra, Biroli, Gallis, O'Donnel, Sikander, Rahman, 

Father involvement in the first year of life: Associations with maternal mental health and child development outcomes in rural Pakistan.

Social Science & Medicine, 112421, ISSN 0277-9536. (2019).

(media: Altmetric)

Karlsson Linnér, Biroli, Kong, Meddens, Wedow, Fontana,  … , Beauchamp, 

Genome-wide association analyses of risk tolerance and risky behaviors in over 1 million individuals identify hundreds of loci and shared genetic influences.

Nature Genetics, 51: 245–257. (2019).

(FAQ, bioRxiv working paper, sumstats, media: Altmetric

Biroli, Del Boca, Heckman, J. J., Pettler-Heckman, L., Koh, Kuperman, Mokdan, Pronzazo, Ziff, 

Evaluation of the Reggio Approach to Early Childhood Education.

Research in Economics, 72(1): 1–32. (2018).

(IZA working paper, appendix, code. media: PlumX

Biroli, Mourre, & Turrini, "The adjustment mechanism in the Euro Area." Intereconomics, 48(3), 159–166.  (2013).

Buti, Turrini, van den Noord, & Biroli, "Reforms and Re-elections in OECD Countries." Economic Policy, 25(61), 61–116.  (2010)

Buti, Turrini, van den Noord, & Biroli, "Defying the ‘Juncker Curse’: Can Reformist Governments Be Re-elected?" Empirica, 36(1), 65–100.  (2009).

Working Papers

Economics and Econometrics of Gene-Environment Interplay (arxiv) --- R&R at RESTUD

with Titus J. Galama, Stephanie von Hinke, Hans van Kippersluis, Cornelius A. Rietveld, Kevin Thom

Abstract: Economists and social scientists have debated the relative importance of nature (one's genes) and nurture (one's environment) for decades, if not centuries. This debate can now be informed by the ready availability of genetic data in a growing number of social science datasets. This paper explores the potential uses of genetic data in economics, with a focus on estimating the interplay between nature (genes) and nurture (environment). We discuss how economists can benefit from incorporating genetic data into their analyses even when they do not have a direct interest in estimating genetic effects. We argue that gene--environment (GxE) studies can be instrumental for (i) testing economic theory, (ii) uncovering economic or behavioral mechanisms, and (iii) analyzing treatment effect heterogeneity, thereby improving the understanding of how (policy) interventions affect population subgroups. We introduce the reader to essential genetic terminology, develop a conceptual economic model to interpret gene-environment interplay, and provide practical guidance to empirical researchers.

Beyond Barker: Infant Mortality at Birth and Ischaemic Heart Disease in Older Age (arxiv)

with Samuel Baker, Hans van Kippersluis, Stephanie von Hinke

Abstract: In one of the first papers on the impact of early life conditions for individuals' health in older age, Barker and Osmond (1986) show a strong positive relationship between infant mortality rates in the 1920s and ischaemic heart disease in the 1970s. We merge historical data on infant mortality rates to 370,000 individual records in the UK Biobank using information on local area and year of birth. We then go `beyond Barker’, first by showing that the relationship holds when including local geographic area fixed effects, but not when we exploit family data and compare siblings. Second, we report considerable genetic heterogeneity that is robust to within-area as well as within-family analyses. Our findings show that, in areas with the lowest infant mortality rates, the effect of one’s genetic predisposition effectively vanishes. These findings suggests that advantageous environments can cushion one's genetic disease risk. 

Moral Hazard Heterogeneity: Genes and Insurance Influence Smoking after a Health Shock (recent version, bioRxiv, code, slides, podcast)

with Laura Zwyssig

Abstract: Decision-making in the realm of health behaviors, such as smoking or drinking, is influenced both by biological factors, such as genetic predispositions, as well as environmental factors, such as financial liquidity and health insurance status. We show how the choice of smoking after a cardio-vascular health shock is jointly determined by the interaction between these biological and environmental constraints. Individuals who suffer a health shock when uninsured are 25.6 percentage points more likely to reduce smoking, but this is true only for those who have a low index of genetic predisposition to smoking. Individuals with a low index of genetic predisposition are more strategic and flexible in their behavioral response to an external shock. This differential elasticity of response depending on your genetic variants is evidence of individual-level heterogeneity in moral hazard. These results suggest that genetic heterogeneity is a factor that should be considered when evaluating the importance and fairness of health insurance policies.

Genes, Pubs, and Drinks: Gene-environment interplay and alcohol licensing policy in the United Kingdom.

with Christian Zünd

Abstract: Are we genetically destined to behave poorly, or can a well-designed policy and a nurturing environment prevail over our instincts? This paper analyzes the interplay of public policy and individuals' genetic endowments, demonstrating how people's genetic propensity to drink moderates their consumption behavior in response to changes in alcohol availability and licensing policy. We combine data from the UK Biobank with geo-coded data on pubs and retailers, as well as data on alcohol licensing from local authorities in England and Wales. This allows us to construct a fine-grained measure of local alcohol availability for each one of the approximately 500,000 participants in the UK Biobank. Our results show that individuals with a high genetic propensity to drink select into environments with easier access to alcohol, react less to changes in the availability of alcohol, and respond less to restrictive licensing. Thus, we show that a supply-focused licensing policy to mitigate alcohol abuse can clash with individual predispositions and might exacerbate genetic inequality, suggesting the need for a more targeted approach.

Cognition, personality, and in-group favouritism among children

with Amalia Di Girolamo, Michalis Drouvelis, Matteo Pinna 

Abstract: Understanding the forces determining social preferences is a central topic in the behavioural and the social sciences. In this paper, we focus on how IQ and Big-5 personality traits relate to the development of children’s cooperative behaviour, either in-group (class peers) or out-group (school peers). In a lab-in-the-field prisoner dilemma experiment with elementary school children aged 7-11, we find that the average cooperation rate is 9.7 percentage points higher for in-group vs out-group. Children with high IQ are 42 percentage points less likely to cooperate with outsiders. Conscientious, extrovert, and open to experience children are also 14 to 20 percentage points less likely to cooperate with outsiders. In-group favouritism is not constant over the ages but develops in children starting from about age 10, suggesting that social preferences and group identity are acquired over time and not necessarily an innate behaviour.

Genetic and Economic Interaction in Health Formation: The Case of Obesity. (working paper)

Abstract: Small genetic differences at birth confer a comparative advantage in health and human capital formation, and can lead to substantial inequality in long term social and economic outcomes. I develop a structural model of health and human capital formation illustrating the dynamic interaction between genetic inheritance and investments in health over the life cycle. Genetic heterogeneity across individuals can change the utility cost of investment and the production function of health, shifting the incentives to invest in healthy habits. Focusing on Body-Mass-Index (BMI) as a measure of poor health, I consider physical activity and food intake as investments in health, and I evaluate their interaction with specific variants in FTO and other genes associated with BMI in Genome-Wide Association Studies. Applying this model in two different datasets, one of British adolescents and one of US adults, I find that Gene-Environment interaction plays a pivotal role in the evolution of BMI. Food intake has a stronger impact on BMI for those individuals with a particular genetic makeup, and yet they tend to display a higher demand for food. The association of variants in the FTO gene with the hypothalamic regulation of food intake gives a biological foundation to the observed differences in healthy investments. This analysis provides an economic framework of health and human capital formation that integrates recent findings in genetics and molecular biology and sheds light on the interdependence between genes and economic choices of investment.

Health and Skill Formation in Early Childhood (UBS wp)

Abstract:This paper analyzes the developmental origins and the evolution of health, cognitive, and noncognitive skills during early childhood, from age 0 to 5. We explicitly model the dynamic interactions of health with the child's behavior and cognitive skills, as well as the role of parental investment. A dynamic factor model corrects for the presence of measurement error in the proxy for the latent traits. Using data from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC), we find that children's capabilities strongly interact and build on each other: health is an important determinant of early noncognitive development; in turn noncognitive skills have a positive impact on the evolution of both health and cognitive functions; on the other side, the effect of cognitive abilities on health is negligible. Furthermore, all facets of human capital display a high degree of persistence. Finally, mother's investments are an important determinant of the child's health, cognitive, and noncognitive development early in life.


with Titus Galama, Stephanie von Hinke, Nicola Barban, Hans van Kippersluis, Cornelius A. Rietveld, et al. --- Funded by Horizon Europe, Marie Sklodowska-Curie Actions

First Conference, Bologna 2022; Second Conference, Bologna 2023; 

              with Hans van Kippersluis, Stephanie von Hinke, et al. --- Funded by NORFACE DIAL

              with Anne Brenøe, Claudio Schilter, and Xiaoyue Shan --- Funded by SNSF (189087) and Larsson Rosenquist Foundation

              with Joanna Maselko, Victoria Baranov, Sonia Bhalotra, et al.  --- Funded by NIH and CEDIL

              with Demis Basso, Antonella Brighi, Amalia Di Girolamo --- Funded by Benecare Foundation and SNSF 197588