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Dr. Bobbi Wolfe Retires

Dr. Barbara Wolfe, the Richard A. Easterlin Professor of Health Economics, a member of the Population Health Sciences faculty and Former Director of the La Follette School Public Affairs and the Institute for Research on Poverty, retires following 40 years of service.

Bobbi Wolfe, who served the University and State for 40 years, retired recently from her position as Professor of Population Health Sciences, and Professor of Economics and of Public Affairs. Her contributions were recognized by the University and the Governor with the presentation of certificates at a recent department meeting. Bobbi will continue to actively pursue her research interests as a Professor Emerita.

Dr. Wolfe’s research focused primarily on understanding the consequences of poverty. This research principally looked at the effects of poverty on children, but also included studying persons with disabilities and how health shocks influence older adults.
One recent focus of her work was to use brain scans to understand and document the influence of poverty on critical areas of the brains of children and to tie this to their performance on cognitive tests. These areas of the brain continue to develop until at least the mid 20’s, so are likely to respond to increases in resources and experiences. This opens the door to studies of how changes in inequality, and especially reductions in poverty, might improve children, adolescent and young adults’ cognitive performance in multiple dimensions. See Bobbi’s brief interview by Human Capital and Economic Opportunity Global Working Group at
The next step in this work is to test these effects using means-tested programs. Potentially this approach can capture the long shadow of such programs without waiting for years until effects occur.

A second focus is to explore the role of siblings who experience a negative “event” on well siblings. This includes the influence of a sibling’s death, a sibling’s significant disability or having an adopted sibling, and to ascertain if a family’s socioeconomic status can modify these effects. If greater family resources reduce negative effects, this creates an argument for targeted programs. A paper from this work was recently published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Much of Bobbi’s current work explores the potential benefits of housing subsidies on school outcomes including achievement tests, disciplinary actions, attendance and post-secondary school matriculation and completion. She is extending this to address the effects of additional financial assistance through evaluation of the generous Fund for Wisconsin Scholars program.

The Department of Population Health Sciences thanks Dr. Wolfe for her service and looks forward to the outcomes of her continuing research efforts.