Understanding inequality aversion for use in public health decision making using multi-criteria decision making
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
Public policies need to be evaluated across multiple domains (or dimensions) of wellbeing, such as income, health, housing, and personal relationships, and the levels of wellbeing need to be aggregated across the individuals affected by the policy to determine social overall wellbeing achieved by different policies. In engineering, this is often called a many-objective optimisation problem.
While there are different ways of aggregating multi-domain wellbeing across individuals, of interest is whether to account for inequality and if so, how. Inequality aversion is a concept that takes the total level of wellbeing across individuals and penalises it for the dispersion (or inequality) around the mean level of wellbeing. Decision makers who are more inequality averse prefer less unequal outcomes to more unequal outcomes, even if it meant lower average wellbeing. It is similar to the idea of risk aversion, where a total level of expected outcome is penalised for the uncertainty (or dispersion) surrounding the expected outcome - decision makers who are more risk averse prefer less risky prospects to more risky prospects, even if it meant lower returns.
Decision makers in this context could be members of the public asked to think about what makes a good society, or policy actors who input into actual policy making at local and national governments.
Multi-Criteria Decision Making (MCDM) is a technique that allows decision makers to approach many-objective optimisation problems in a structured manner that facilitates the elicitation and formation of preferences and values held by the decision marker. This PhD will use progressive pairwise comparisons between solution options generated during an optimisation process to explore how decision makers trade-off between increasing average wellbeing and reducing inequalities in wellbeing.
The proposed PhD will explore the following core questions:
1. How do decision makers understand their own levels of inequality aversion?
2. Do decision makers have different inequality aversion for overall wellbeing and the domains of wellbeing, and for what reason(s)?
We are also open to considering alternative proposals which fall within the scope of the SIPHER consortium. https://sipher.ac.uk/sipher-research/
- 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