Who: I am an assistant professor of economics
What: My research fields are health economics, social science genomics, and applied micro.
Why: Fore more info, you can contact me at pietro.biroli [at] econ.uzh.ch
My twitter @pietrobiroli
I am on the job market — European Job Market 2020 & ASSA 2021
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 public 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.
Demange, P. , Malanchini, M., Mallard, T., Biroli P., Cox, S., Grotzinger, A.D., Tucker-Drob E.M., Abdellaoui A., Arseneault, L., Caspi, A., Corcoran, D., Domingue B., Mitchell C., van Bergen E., Boomsma D.I., Harris K.M. Ip H.F., Moffitt, T.E., Poulton, R., Prinz, J., Karen Sugden, K., Wertz J., Williams, B., de Zeeuw E.L. , Belsky D.W., Harden K.P., Nivard M. G. Investigating the Genetic Architecture of Non-Cognitive Skills Using GWAS-by-Subtraction. Nature Genetics. 53, 35–44(2021)
Biroli, P., Boneva, T., Raja, A., Rauh, C. Parental Beliefs about Returns to Child Health Investments. Journal of Econometrics, ISSN 0304-4076. (2020).
Maselko, J., Sikander, S., Turner, E. L., Bates, L. M., Ahmad, I., Atif, N., Baranov, V., Bhalotra, S., Bibi, A., Bibi, T., Bilal, S., Biroli, P., Chung, E., Gallis, J. A., Hagaman, A., Jamil, A., Lemasters, K., & Donnell, K. O. 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).
Baranov, V., Bhalotra, S., Biroli, P., & Maselko, J. Maternal Depression, Women’s Empowerment, and Parental Investment: Evidence from a Randomized Controlled Trial. American Economic Review, 110 (3): 824-59. (2020).
Maselko, J., Hagaman, A. K., Bates, L. M., Bhalotra, S., Biroli, P., Gallis, J. A., O'Donnel, K., Sikander, S., Rahman, A. 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).
Karlsson Linnér, R., Biroli, P., Kong, E., Meddens, S. F. W., Wedow, R., Fontana, M. A., … Beauchamp, J. P. 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).
Biroli, P., Del Boca, D., Heckman, J. J., Heckman, L. P., Koh, Y. K., Kuperman, S., Mokdan, S., Pronzazo, C. D., Ziff, A. L. Evaluation of the Reggio Approach to Early Childhood Education. Research in Economics, 72(1): 1–32. (2018).
Biroli, P., Mourre, G., & Turrini, A. The adjustment mechanism in the Euro Area. Intereconomics, 48(3), 159–166. (2013).
Buti, M., Turrini, A., van den Noord, P., & Biroli, P. Defying the ‘Juncker Curse’: Can Reformist Governments Be Re-elected? Empirica, 36(1), 65–100. (2009).
Moral Hazard Heterogeneity: Genes and Insurance Influence Smoking after a Health Shock (working paper)
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 33 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.
Family Life In Lockdown (HCEO working paper)
Abstract: The lockdown imposed following the COVID-19 pandemic of spring 2020 dramatically changed the daily lives and routines of millions of people worldwide. We analyse how such changes contributed to gender inequality within the household using a novel survey of Italian, British, and American families in lockdown. A high percentage report disruptions in the patterns of family life, manifesting in new work patterns, chore allocations, and household tensions. Though men have taken an increased share of childcare and grocery shopping duties, reallocations are not nearly as stark as disruptions to work patterns might suggest, and families having to reallocate duties report greater tensions. Our results paint a picture of tightened constraints budging up against stable and gendered patterns of intra-household cooperation. While the long-run consequences of the COVID-19 lockdown on family life cannot be assessed at this stage, we point towards the likely opportunities and challenges.
Cognition, personality, and in-group favouritism among children
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.
Childhood socioeconomic status moderates genetic predispositions for peak smoking (bioRxiv working paper)
Abstract: Smoking is the leading cause of preventable disease and death in the U.S., and it is strongly influenced both by genetic predisposition and childhood socioeconomic status (SES). Using genetic variants exhibiting credible and robust associations with smoking, we construct polygenic risk scores (PGS) and evaluate whether childhood SES mediates genetic risk in determining peak-cigarette consumption in adulthood. We find a substantial protective effect of childhood SES for those genetically at risk of smoking: adult smokers who grew up in high-SES households tend to smoke roughly the same amount of cigarettes per day at peak (~23 for low and ~25 for high genetic risk individuals, or about 8% more), while individuals from low-SES backgrounds tend to smoke substantially more if genetically at risk (~25 for low and ~32 for high genetic risk individuals, or about 28% more).
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.
GEIGHEI: Gene-Environment Interplay in the Generation of Health and Education Inequalities
The Behavioral Economics of Breastfeeding Encouragement (BEBE) Cohort Study
Bachpan Cohort Study: Perinatal depression and child development
Addressing Intimate Partner Violence: Evaluating Interventions with Male Perpetrators vs Female Victims
STEM-UP! Cooperation and Cognitive Abilities in Primary Schools