Multitasking With Professor of Economics Stefanie Fischer

Stefanie Fisher

By Christina Arthur

Like most of her peers in academia, Assistant Professor of Economics and Labor Economist Stefanie Fischer is engaged on multiple levels.

She spends part of her time conducting research and teaching a number of classes here at The Orfalea College of Business. She spends another portion of her time working as a Research Affiliate at the IZA Institute of Labor Economics, an organization based in Germany, which is focused on the future of labor research by supporting young scholars on their paths to becoming tomorrow’s leading academics. 

Also like most professors, publishing her work is another area where she focuses her efforts. In that capacity, she has collaborated on several recent papers that have appeared in elite journals such as the Journal of Public Economics, Labour Economics, Economics of Education Review, and the Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization.

Fischer’s interest in the field of economics started when she was a math major as an undergrad at Linfield College in Oregon. She was always interested in the way people behaved so she also decided to take a few economics classes since—at its essence—economics is a field focused on studying how people choose to use resources and respond to incentives. 

After graduation, she ended up working for a period of time and later decided to go to graduate school for economics. “It was a nice blend of my interests in the social sciences and my background in math,” she said. 

In her role as an Assistant Professor of Economics at Orfalea, she teaches an Introductory Economics class to non-majors, an upper division under-grad course of Econometrics, and an elective of Advanced Labor Economics in the grad program, as well as advising these masters students in their capstone projects. 

As a Research Affiliate for the IZA Institute, Fischer has been attending conferences in the U.S. and Europe. These symposiums bring together researchers from all over the world to share their work and collaborate. “One neat thing about this job is that I get to travel a ton,” she said. “I’ve been able to go to a lot of different countries, present my work, meet people, and see what they’re working on.”

IZA’s mission is to produce evidence-based policy decision-making and Fischer’s research ties directly in with this. In fact, for her, a significant motive in being a researcher is to provide compelling evidence to help shape public policy. “I produced enough papers in that area so they asked me to be a part of their network of researchers,” she said. 

Her main area of interest is how these public policy decisions relate to human capital. “I think my work has important implications for addressing inequality, because human capital is an essential lever for economic mobility,” she said. “So that’s the bigger picture of why I got into it.”

Fischer recently collaborated with Orfalea Assistant Professor of Economics Corey White and Associate Professor of Economics at UC Santa Barbara Heather Royer on a paper titled “The Impacts of Reduced Access to Abortion and Family Planning Services on Abortions, Births, and Contraceptive Purchases,” which was referenced in the New York Times. This paper looks at the effects of changing access to both abortion services and non-abortion family planning services. “Our goal was to understand how reducing access to both types of clinics affected women in the state,” Fischer said. 

They found that the reduction in access to abortion clinics resulted in many women traveling out of state to seek abortion services. In addition to this, another one of their findings was an increase in birth rates among the most highly affected women. 

Fischer made it clear that while conducting the research and writing this paper, she and her colleauges were not taking a political or moral position regarding abortion, but instead sought to document the effects of this type of legislation. “This provides a benchmark for the rest of the states that are thinking about implementing similar policies and what might happen if they do so,” she said. 

Fischer added that this was one of her favorite papers because it’s particularly timely and relevant to public policy. “I liked it because I feel like it has really helped the policy discussion on a topic that a lot of people care about,” she said. “I think that’s why the New York Times was interested.”

Fischer is currently working with the same team, Professors White and Royer, on another project related to this topic. This study looks at changes in access to obstetric care as many hospitals in rural America are closing at alarming rates. Their main focus is how the closures of these hospitals affect maternal and child health. 

According to Fishcer, these obstetric units essentially provide services to pregnant women at the time of child birth, but also the period leading up to childbirth and the period directly following. “When these hospitals close,” she said, “these women have to travel father to get to these services and we want to know how that affects both their health, but also the health of the baby.” 

Some of the findings they have already gathered from this research include discovering that women do in fact travel further to get to the nearest clinic, that these women are less likely to receive prenatal care, and that these factors could potentially be harmful for the child. One positive aspect that can come from this, however, is that some women may be going to higher quality hospitals as a result of closures. 

How these conclusions may impact public policy in the future is up for debate—and ultimately up to the policy-makers themselves. In the meanwhile, Fischer plans to continue studying important aspects of societal and human behavior, working closely with her students in the College of Business, conducting research, and conveying it as objectively as possible to help shape the future. 

“One goal that I have for all of my students is to be able to apply an economic framework to the evaluation of public policy,” she said. “With the ability to think independently and critically through an economic lens, I hope my students become better informed citizens.”