Faculty Spotlight

Jessica (Ying) Cao

Jessia (Ying) Cao, PhD.

Jessica Cao is an assistant professor in the Division of Health Services Policy and Practice within the Department of Epidemiology and Environmental Health at the UB School of Public Health and Health Professions.

How did you get interested in the field of public health?

To be honest, I was trained to be an economist. But, I have always had an interest in how individuals make decisions or adopt certain behaviors in health or health care settings. This interest combined with my training led to using behavioral economics to understand the decision making process and how to help people make healthy choices and improve health care system efficiency.

What is the focus of your research?

I am currently working on several projects related to how individuals or economic agents make health related decisions under given policy/institutional settings or reforms. One project is about the differentiated patterns of life partner influences on each other’s preventive activity engagement throughout the aging process. The project also aims to differentiate the alternative channels through which life partner influences could happen, such as shared environment, cognitive learning, and timing of life events, etc.

Another project I am working on involves the investigation of intra-household disparity on health needs and health care accessibility by various household income compositions in the global settings. Borrowing insights from behavioral economics in general and mental accounting in particular, this project aims to show that sources of income (by male/female, through wages or investment, etc.), in addition to the absolute dollar value, matter in the scares recourse allocation within a household.

What are the real world implications of your research?

My research uses empirical evidence from the field to provide implications on effective policy or intervention design. For example, some results from the life partner influence project suggest that promotional interventions on preventive activity engagement should take the “asymmetric” gender effects into account, and also take advantage of the right “timing” of certain life events, such as obtaining new health insurance, and/or retirement, etc. For another example, the mental accounting project in the global setting suggests female empowerment and income diversification coupled with general poverty alleviation schemes can reduce the disparities.

What is your greatest accomplishment while at UB?

I am very proud of the collaborations I've established with researchers from across UB including various academic units and research areas. UB is a very active and supportive academic environment which fosters opportunities for interdisciplinary research.