Sylvia Brandt
Econometrics and Environmental Economics
University of Massachusetts
Amherst, MA 01003

Economics is the study of the allocation of scarce resources. Looking around us, however, we can see that resources are not allocated in anything resembling an optimal manner. My research focuses on two areas where traditional economic theories have failed to solve difficult problems in the allocation of public goods: fisheries management and chronic illness.

My research asks why these suboptimal outcomes persist and how policymakers can increase public welfare by increasing economic efficiency, policy effectiveness, or distributive fairness. To answer these questions, I extend standard economic models to incorporate approaches from the other social sciences; I collect primary data or use novel data sets to gain new perspectives on existing problems; and I apply the tools of micro-econometrics for statistical analysis. My papers highlight the influence of typically unobserved or hitherto ignored factors, ranging from ownership structures in a fishery to household beliefs about medical treatments, and use these factors to explain why the real world deviates from previous theoretical models. Much of my research also has direct policy implications, whether for the design of regulatory regimes or for the evaluation of public health programs.

Recent Awards

  • Public Engagement Project Fellow. Public Engagement Fellowship Program. University of Massachusetts Amherst. 2015.

  • Family Research Scholar. Center for Research on the Family. University of Massachusetts Amherst. 2014-2015.

  • National Institute of Environmental Health Science selected “Costs of childhood asthma due to traffic-related pollution in two California communities” as one of the 20 most important publications of 2012.

Research in the News

Recent Citations

Recent Press Releases

Current Projects

Using Economics to Improve Asthma Interventions

Although both the medical understanding of the mechanisms involved in asthmatic episodes and the resources devoted to its treatment have increased, the rise in the burden of asthma is a well-documented international phenomenon. In this series of papers, colleagues and I explore factors that facilitate or hinder households’ adoption of asthma management guidelines.

Using a survey on asthma management we found that behavioral factors --- primarily risk tolerance and time discounting --- are related to consistently using preventative asthma medication in an emerging-adult population.  An analysis of the marginal effects of the independent variables reveals that that the probability of adherence is near zero for high rates of risk tolerance and time preference regardless of attitudes. Yet for individuals who are more risk averse and discount the future less, attitudes can have an appreciable effect. The longer-run goals of the project are to use a nationally representative sample to:

1) assess how attitudes around risk and future discounting influence consumer engagement in asthma treatment; 2) develop asthma education and intervention programs that work with, rather than against, consumer preferences—and that incorporate possible financial incentives as appropriate; and 3) offer a new, interdisciplinary model of consumer engagement.

  • Brandt S, Dickinson B. Time and risk preferences and the use of asthma controller medication. Pediatrics. 2013;131(4):1204-10.
  • Magzamen S, Brandt S, Tager I. Examining household asthma management behavior through a microeconomic framework. Health Educ Behav2014;41(6):651-662.
  • Magzamen S, Brandt S, Tager I. Examining household asthma management behavior through a microeconomic framework. Health Educ Behav2014;41(6):651-662.
  • Brandt, S., Gale, S., & Tager, I. (2011). The value of health interventions: Evaluating asthma case management using matching. Applied Economics, 44(17), 2245-2263.

Brandt, S., Gale, S., & Tager, I. (2010). Estimation of treatment effect of asthma case management using propensity score methods. American Journal of Managed Care, 16(4), 257-263.

  • Sadof, M., Boschert, K., Brandt, S., & Motyl, A. (2006). An analysis of predictors of sustainability efforts at the Inner-City Asthma Intervention sites. Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, 97(1), S31-S35.

The Burden of Pollution-related Asthma Morbidity

While the social costs of asthma are large enough to justify substantial policy interest, asthma is also of great concern because the health effects fall disproportionately on the young and poor in the United States. In this series of papers we look at forces that may lead to these disparities: 1) exposure to air pollution that both leads to asthma exacerbations and creates new asthma cases; and 2) inequities in the delivery of health services.

  • Brandt S, Perez L, Künzli N, Lurmann F, Wilson J, Pastor M, McConnell R. Cost of near-roadway and regional air pollution-attributable childhood asthma in Los Angeles County. JACI 2014;134:1028–1035.
  • Perez L, Lurmann F, Wilson J, Pastor M, Brandt SJ, Künzli N, McConnell R. Near-roadway pollution and childhood asthma: implications for developing "win-win" compact urban development and clean vehicle strategies. Environ Health Perspect. 2012;120(11):1619-26.
  • Brandt, S., Vasquez Lavin, F., & Hanemann, M. Designing contingent valuation scenarios for environmental health: The case of childhood asthma. Value in Health. 2012 Dec;15(8):1077-83.
  • Brandt SJ, Perez L, Künzli N, Lurmann F, McConnell R. Costs of childhood asthma due to traffic-related pollution in two California communities.  Eur Respir J. 2012 Aug;40(2):363-70.
  • Brandt, S. & St. Marie, P. (2011). Racial disparities in hospital length of stay for asthma: Implications for economic policies. Journal of Family and Economic Issues, 32(1), 152-169.
  • Ash, M. & Brandt, S. (2006). Disparities in asthma hospitalizations in Massachusetts. American Journal of Public Health, 96(2), 358-362.

Cross-cultural Comparisons of Willingness to Pay to Improve Children’s Health

Questions of environmental policy often become questions of money:  money for healthcare programs, money to retrofit polluting factories, etc.  Although placing a value on health – or its absence – is notoriously controversial, it is necessary in order to properly evaluate the costs and benefits of policies that affect health. In regulating air pollution, for example, the costs imposed on utilities (or drivers) must be weighed against the adverse health effects of air pollutants. The ultimate result of this research is an estimate of households’ willingness to pay (WTP) for reduced asthma morbidity. In ongoing work we are comparing both the distribution of WTP to reduce asthma morbidity and the determinants of this valuation in USA and Chile.

  • Brandt, S., Vasquez Lavin, F., & Hanemann, M. Burden of ozone on families with children with asthma in Massachusetts, 2008-2009. (In preparation for submission).
  • Brandt S. Ding N, Dickinson B. Methodological Effects on the Measurement of Repeat Hospitalizations. AJAC 2015;3:68-79.
  • Brandt, S., Vasquez Lavin, F., & Hanemann, M. Designing contingent valuation scenarios for environmental health: The case of childhood asthma. Value in Health. 2012 Dec;15(8):1077-83.
  • Brandt, S. & Hanemann, M. Valuation methodologies for chronic illnesses. (Under review).

Managing Natural Resources under Climate Change

Fifty years after the seminal paper on the economics of fishing, close to 40 percent of commercial fisheries are still over-harvested. As the climate continues to change, the pressure on commercial fisheries will increase. My research evaluates the real-world differences between tradable property rights and command-and-control regulation, both as a test of economic theory and as a contribution to current policy debates. To do this, my analyses explicitly incorporate the institutions that shape and govern fisheries. For example, my research has shown how the failure to consider strategic behavior can produce incorrect predictions regarding the impact of regulatory change. Similarly, by studying ownership structures in fisheries, such as vertical or horizontal integration, I have been able to empirically answer key questions concerning the equitable distribution of the costs and benefits from regulation.

  • Viteri, C. & Brandt, S. Setting incentives to manage tourism in the Galapagos Islands: A choice experiment approach. (Under review).
  • Creed, C.,  McCay, B., Haidvogel, D., Munroe, D., Klinck, J., Powell, E.,  Mann, R., Hofman, E., Brandt S., and Viteri, C. Spatial Scale and the Atlantic Surfclam Fishery. (Under review)
  • McCay, B., Brandt, S., Creed, C. (2011). Human dimensions of climate change and fisheries in a coupled system:  The Atlantic surfclam case. ICES Journal of Marine Science, 68(6), 1354-1367.
  • McEvoy, D., Brandt, S., Lavoie, N., & Anders, S. (2009). The effects of ITQ management on fishermen’s welfare when the processing sector is imperfectly competitive. Land Economics, 85(3), 470-484.
  • Brandt, S. & Ding, N. (2008). Impact of property rights on labor contracts in commercial fisheries. Ocean and Coastal Management, 51(11), 740-748.
  • Brandt, S. (2007). Evaluating tradable property rights for natural resources: The role of strategic entry and exit. Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, 63(1), 158-176.
  • Brandt, S. & McEvoy, D. (2006). Distributional effects of property rights: Transitions in the Atlantic herring fishery. Marine Policy, 30(6), 659-670.
  • Brandt, S. (2005). The equity debate: Distributional impacts of individual transferable quotas.Ocean and Coastal Management, 48(1), 15-30.
  • Brandt, S. (2005). A tale of two clams. Regulation, 28(1), 18-21.

Related Grants

Co-Principal Investigator. New approaches to estimating cost and burden of traffic-related air pollution. $326,173 (UMass $78,000). Ongoing.

Valuing air pollution impacts on health: A comparison of revealed and stated preferences approaches in developed and developing countries. Fondo Nacional de Ciencia y Tegnologia (National Fund for Science and Technology, Chile). (Ongoing).

Co-Principal Investigator. Climate change and responses in a coupled marine system. National Science Foundation. $1.2 million (UMass $175,000). Ongoing.

Socioeconomic impacts of herring fisheries management in the Northeast: Looking back to move forward. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.  Brandt and Hall are Co-Principal Investigators. $261,800 (UMass $69,900). Ongoing.

Principal Investigator. What determines household investments in health? The case of childhood asthma in a low-income urban area. University of Massachusetts Research Faculty Grant. $24,212. 2008-2009.

Principal Investigator. Economic assessment of asthma intervention. Centers for Disease Control -- UMASS subcontract from UCA-Berkeley School of Public Health (prime), $108,328. 2003-2005 and 2007-2008.

Principal Investigator. Institutions, economics and regulatory design in fisheries. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, $82,793. 2003-2005.

Co-investigator. Controlling Asthma in American Cities Program – Phase Two: Intervention implementation and evaluation. Centers for Disease Control. $1.3 million. (UMass $108,328). 2003-2005 and 2007-2008.