Donna Gilleskie is a member of both the Identity and Personality and Health Inequality networks. She is Professor of Economics at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. Gilleskie studies the economics of individual decision-making with regard to health input demand, labor supply behavior, and health production.


Please describe your area of study and how it relates to current policy discussions surrounding inequality.

As a health and labor economist with a great interest in “getting the numbers right” (or measuring the impact of policy-relevant behaviors well), my research focuses on how health and health behaviors (e.g., health insurance selection, medical care utilization decisions, and non-medical input behaviors) of individuals influence their health and employment outcomes over the life cycle. For example, the data suggest a body mass wage penalty among white women but not among black women. My work involves decomposing this disparate finding into a contemporaneous (or direct) effect and a dynamic (or indirect) effect resulting from the influence of body mass over the life cycle on other wage determinants that accumulate over time such as education, work experience, marriage, and children.   


What areas in the study of inequality are most in need of new research?

Economists have learned much about the roles of insurance, income, and education in explaining disparities in health behaviors and health outcomes. Some areas that are less well-studied are the roles of health knowledge, health anxiety, and peer influence.  There are two barriers to good empirical analyses: 1.) a lack of the necessary data, which include both detailed information and multiple observations of individuals over time; and 2.) the difficulties associated with modeling these influences empirically while remaining grounded in an economic framework. I believe we are making progress on both of these fronts, opening up many new areas of inquiry.


What advice do you have for emerging scholars in your field?

My two pieces of advice for young scholars interested in health disparities may appear at first blush to contradict themselves. One suggestion is to go back to the fundamental health economics questions and determine if a new perspective, or new lens, and certainly new econometric methods can uncover new answers. The second suggestion is to be willing to go down the path of relaxing some commonly used assumptions that guide solution and estimation of individual health-related decision making problems. Either direction, however, involves “stepping out of the box."