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Imperial College London Featured PhD Programmes
Queen’s University Belfast Featured PhD Programmes

Aggregating multi-domain wellbeing across individuals


   School of Health and Related Research


Sheffield United Kingdom Control Systems Microeconomics Operational Research Economics Political Economics Public Policy Systems Engineering

About the Project

BACKGROUND

This PhD studentship is offered as part of the SIPHER (Systems science in Public Health and Health Economics Research) consortium, Work Stream 6. This Work Stream concerns social valuations across multidimensional wellbeing outcomes and efficiency-equality trade-offs. For further details of SIPHER, see https://sipher.ac.uk/

 

INTRODUCTION

Public policies need to be evaluated across multiple domains (or dimensions) of wellbeing. (In engineering, this has been known as the many-objective optimisation problem.)

In welfare economics, there are two approaches to aggregate multidimensional individual wellbeing to obtain social wellbeing (both of which engineers will recognise as a priori approaches). One is called the individualistic approach, where the overall wellbeing of each individual is calculated, and then these are aggregated across individuals. The other is called the domain-specific approach, where wellbeing is aggregated across individuals within each domain, and then these are aggregated across domains.

If all aggregation stages are simply additive, the two approaches result in the same total social wellbeing. However, there may be ‘aversion to inequality’: people may value more equal distributions of wellbeing even if that meant a lower total. The individualist approach calls for aversion to inequality in overall wellbeing, while the domain-specific approach calls for aversion to inequality by domain.   

Now, suppose society has 300 individuals “in need” across two domains of wellbeing and there are two policy alternatives:

-       improve the wellbeing of 100 people in domain 1, improve the wellbeing of another 100 people in domain 2, and leave 100 people as they are; or

-       improve the wellbeing of 100 people in domains 1 and 2, and leave 200 people as they are.

The individualistic approach and the domain-specific approach will, in theory, have different implications across these two allocation possibilities. However, whether the differences between the two approaches would have a real impact on actual decisions is unknown. This would depend on other relevant parameters. Case studies based on actual policy examples and analysed using the multi-criteria decision-making (MCDM) framework is a possible method to explore this.

RESEARCH QUESTIONS

The proposed PhD will explore the following questions:

1.    Do relevant decision makers have different inequality aversion for overall wellbeing and the domains of wellbeing, and for what reason(s)?

2.    Do relevant decision makers value the two allocation possibilities above differently, and, if so, for what reason(s)?

3.    Are the differences between the individualistic approach and the domain-specific approach large enough to affect actual policy decisions?

METHODS

-       Review of the literatures on multi-domain social welfare, inequality aversion, and multi-objective optimisation.

-       Analysis of existing data from the SIPHER project on domain-specific inequality aversion [Q1]

-       Stated preference study building on the two allocation possibilities above [Q2]

-       Case studies: adapt the SIPHER multi-criteria decision-making framework for cross-sectoral public health policy action to account for the individualistic and the domain-specific approaches and conduct a series of what-if analyses to map out the conditions under which the two approaches will result in inconsistent ranking of policies [Q3]

Entry Requirements:

-       Has a first or upper second class honours degree in a relevant discipline

-       Holds, or is on track to be awarded, a postgraduate degree in a quantitative subject such as economics, quantitative psychology, quantitative sociology, or engineering, with Merit; or significant equivalent research experience

-       A willingness to engage in an interdisciplinary research environment

-       A willingness to learn new skills including basic qualitative research methods

 

How to apply:

Please complete a University Postgraduate Research Application form available here: www.shef.ac.uk/postgraduate/research/apply

Please clearly state the title of the studentship, the prospective main supervisor and select ScHARR as the department.

You will also need to include:

·      a draft outline of your proposed PhD study, in line with the research themes described above, of approximately 500 words

·      a covering letter explaining why you wish to apply for this studentship

·      a copy of your CV


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