Faculty Spotlight: Dr. Joanna LaheyOctober 2011
Dr. Joanna Lahey came to the Bush School five years ago after receiving her doctorate in economics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). As the resident expert on the economics of aging and health, she has published groundbreaking work on the subject and received attention from leading media outlets for her research. Dr. Lahey also strives to give students the skills necessary to critically understand quantitative research and to separate their opinions from empirical evidence or theory.
Dr. Lahey began studying economics at Pomona College in Claremont, California. Having completed the requirements for a major in mathematics, she wanted to broaden her academic horizons; so she looked at a second major in either linguistics or economics. Ultimately, she decided that economics was a better fit. She found economics research interesting and believed that economics could help her understand how the world works.
After earning her PhD at MIT, she began a post-doctoral fellowship at the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER). As more baby boomers approach retirement and the Social Security Administration faces the problem of meeting its obligations to recipients, one option would be to have workers remain in the workforce beyond the traditional retirement age. Dr. Lahey examined whether such a proposition was feasible for older workers in her first paper titled "Age, Women, and Hiring: An Experimental Study." The paper received substantial attention for its results, which indicated that younger women were 40 percent more likely to be called for an interview than those in their early 60s. It also contributed to a broader discussion regarding age discrimination and retirement policy.
A follow-up paper involved an examination of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1979 and its effect on the employment of older individuals. The study found that age discrimination laws likely caused more unemployment for the very people they were crafted to help in the first place: firms became less likely to hire older workers as a result of worries over expensive litigation.
The two papers brought a flurry of media attention - including an appearance on CBS News - and were cited in several articles by the New York Times and The Wall Street Journal among other news outlets. As her work became more widely known, she was asked to represent the United States at a conference on aging held in Germany in June 2009. More recent work has focused on the effects of health insurance on labor force participation and well-being of older workers and retirees. Dr. Lahey has recently been appointed a Faculty Research Fellow in Aging at the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER).
Summing up her work, Dr. Lahey says, "I am interested in how to allow people who are 65 and older to maintain a good quality of life." During the 2009-2010 academic year, she took a year-long sabbatical to work at the RAND Corporation to continue her research in those areas.
Dr. Lahey has taught courses at the Bush School focusing on statistics, public finance economics and policy, and health policy. This past fall, she taught Quantitative Methods I, a course that is designed to familiarize students with statistical software and important methods for evaluating evidence. "Some students come in with math phobia, and I like to think that I help alleviate that." She also teaches Quantitative Methods II, which gives students more experience conducting multivariate regressions and provides an introduction to econometrics. This spring she will again be teaching Public Finance.
Learning the skills necessary to understand the metrics and scope in which policy decisions are made is crucial to the success of students at the Bush School. Dr. Lahey lamented that as a student, she could not learn all she wanted to know about how the world works. However, as a professor at the Bush School, she gives students the ability to examine the world around them and critically analyze their areas of policy interest so they provide better solutions in whatever area they choose as a career.