Recent Publications

Watson, B. & Amin, G. (Accepted) An Examination of Health Care Efficiency in Canada: A Two-Stage Semi-Parametric Approach.

Abstract: Using data envelopment analysis, we examine the efficiency of Canada's universal health care system by considering a set of labour (physicians) and capital (beds) inputs, which produce a level of care (measured in terms of health quality and quantity) in a given region. Data from 2013–2015 were collected from the Canadian Institute for Health Information regarding inputs and from the Canadian Community Health Survey and Statistics Canada regarding our output variables, health utility (quality) and life expectancy (quantity). We posit that variation in efficiency scores across Canada is the result of regional heterogeneity regarding socioeconomic and demographic disparities. Regressing efficiency scores on such covariates suggests that regional unemployment and an older population are quite impactful and associated with less efficient health care production. Moreover, regional variation indicates the Atlantic provinces (Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick) are quite inefficient, have poorer economic prospects, and tend to have an older population than the rest of Canada. Oaxaca-Blinder decompositions suggest that the latter two factors explain about one-third of this efficiency gap. Based on our two-stage semi-parametric analysis, we recommend Canada adjust their transfer payments to reflect these disparities, thereby potentially reducing inequality in regional efficiency. 

Watson, B. & Daley, A. (2024) A Decomposition of Earnings and Volatility Difference Among Indigenous and Non-Indigenous Canadians. Review of Income and Wealth.

Abstract: Using the 2004-2007 and 2008-2011 panels of the Canadian Survey of Labour and Income Dynamics, we examine earnings and employment disparities between Indigenous and non-Indigenous adults. While an income gap exists, and tends not to significantly change over time, taxes and transfers reduce it by almost 40 percent. Further, the gap is generally largest at the bottom of the income distribution. The explained component of the gap is primarily due to differences in education, particularly for young workers, and although the unexplained portion decreases over time, this is due to increased differences in observed labour market characteristics, implying that labour market discrimination may be on the rise. Additionally, the probability of joblessness is higher for Indigenous adults and the male gap has increased. Results are robust to a bounding technique that adjusts for labour force participation differences and tend to be driven by First Nations (as opposed to Métis) adults.

Daley, A., Phipps, S., Pandey, S., & Watson, B. (2023). From the Food Mail Program to Nutrition North Canada: The Impact on Food Insecurity among Indigenous and Non-Indigenous Families with Children. Canadian Journal of Economics, 57(1), 27-54

Food insecurity is prevalent in Northern Canada, especially among Indigenous Peoples. As one approach to address this issue, the federal government subsidizes the shipping of necessities to remote Northern communities, initially through the Food Mail Program and then Nutrition North Canada as of April 2011. We use the Canadian Community Health Survey (2007 to 2016) and a difference-in-differences model to estimate the impact of the policy change on food insecurity, testing for heterogeneity between Indigenous and non-Indigenous families. Our results, which withstand several robustness checks, indicate that the policy change increased the likelihood of overall food insecurity by 8.9 percentage points (77.3% relative to the sample mean) and moderate/severe food insecurity by 7.1 percentage points (89.3% relative to the sample mean). It also increased severe food insecurity among Indigenous families by 7.3 percentage points (more than three times the sample mean). There was, however, variation across regions and subsamples of families with children. Specifically, the policy change was particularly harmful to Indigenous families in the territories and Inuit Nunangat. The detrimental impact was also heightened in the presence of children, especially when considering severe food insecurity among Indigenous families.

Watson, B., Das, A., Maguire, S., Fleet, G., Punamiya, A. (2023). The little intervention that could: Creative aging implies healthy aging among Canadian seniors. Aging & Mental Health, 28(2), 307-318..

Abstract: Through a process of ``creative ageing", there is increased interest in how exposure to the arts can help promote health and well-being among seniors. However, few studies have quantitatively examined the benefits from a foray into artistic expression, and even fewer employ rigorous identification strategies. Addressing this knowledge gap, we use a series of regression techniques (ordinary least squares and quantile regression) to analyze the impact of an arts-based intervention targeting the elderly. Recruited from Saint John, New Brunswick (a city of about 125,000 people in Eastern Canada), 130 seniors were randomly assigned to the programme, with the remaining 122 serving as the control. This intervention consisted of weekly 2-hour art sessions (i.e., drawing, painting, collage, clay-work, performance, and sculpting), taking place from January 2020 until April 2021. Our findings suggest that relative to the control group, the intervention tended to reduce respondent loneliness and depression, and improve their mental health. Additionally, the programme is predicted to have enriched the quality of a participant's social interactions, while enhancing their physical functioning and vitality. Results concerning general health status, bodily pain, and number of medications were not statistically impacted by these art sessions. Robustness checks support the effectiveness of the intervention, suggesting improved outcomes were more evident toward the latter part of the programme, tended to be increasing in attendance, and most efficacious among those with initially low levels of well-being. These findings imply that creative ageing promotes healthy ageing, which is especially noteworthy given COVID-19 likely attenuated our results.

Rohde, N., D'Ambrosio, C., & Watson, B. (2022). Econometric Methods for Measuring Economic Insecurity. In: Advances in Economic Measurement. Palgrave Macmillan.

Abstract: This chapter presents an overview of some of the technical methods used to measure Economic Insecurity (EI). We discuss conceptual challenges associated with measurement, and provide a basic conceptual model for characterising anxiety stemming from economic risk. Surveyed methods include (i) subjective indices, (ii) axiomatic methods derived from microeconomic theory, (iii) micro-econometric approaches and (iv) macro-level or aggregate methods. Some illustrations are provided using Australian panel data. We show that there is considerable heterogeneity in outcomes across different measurement concepts – it is common for markers to be uncorrelated or even negatively associated across our sample. More work is needed integrating alternative risk concepts within the broader framework of EI. Despite this ambiguity, two robust results still emerge. Across a suite of different measures, EI is (i) correlated with other markers of social disadvantage, and (ii) predictive of diminished health and wellbeing, even after conditioning on current socioeconomic status.

Dweik, I., Watson, B., & Woodhall-Melnik, J. (2022). Publicly subsidized housing and physical health: a literature review. Housing Studies 

Abstract: This study is among the first to review current evidence on the association between public subsidized housing and physical health (i.e., health outcomes, health behaviours, and health care use) in low-income households and provides direction for future research and policy. A systematic search of four databases (Scopus, Medline, Embase, and Sociological Abstract) produced 125 aticles. Among quantitative peer-reviewed articles published within the past 28 years (1995-2022), only 24 examine this particular relationship, suggesting that research to date remains rather scarce. Additionally, the bulk of this work is cross-sectional and limited primarily to the US. Although there is some degree of evidence that subsidized housing is associated with improved health, inconsistent results prevent a robust conclusion. The specific type of intervention, targeted group, along with the quality of the neighbourhood and housing all contribute to this heterogeneous mix of findings. This review underscores a need for future research that analyzes causal relationships across a large and varied geographic space using a robust set of physical health outcomes. Lastly, the mechanisms through which health improvement occurs should also be further examined.

Watson, B., Law, S., & Osberg, L. (2022). Are Populists Insecure About Themselves or About Their Country? Political Attitudes and Economic Perceptions. Social Indicators Research, 159(2), 667-705.

Abstract: We investigate whether greater economic insecurity increases distrust in government and fosters authoritarian politics. Using the 2016 American National Election Studies dataset, we build on the literature regarding “egotropic" and “sociotropic" economic concerns to distinguish between “micro" insecurity (perceived insecurity regarding the individual’s own personal economic well-being), and “macro" insecurity (negative expectations concerning the macro economy). Our results suggest micro insecurity is not significantly correlated with attitudinal differences, but macro-level insecurity is associated with increased levels of political distrust, accompanied by greater authoritarianism. Greater macro-level insecurity is also associated with more negative feelings toward “out-groups" (e.g. Muslims, the LGBTQ+ community, feminists, immigrants) and was a key predictor in reduced affinity for Hillary Clinton and the rise in support for Donald Trump. Results are robust to  controls for political affiliation and aggregate macroeconomic indicators, suggesting that rising levels of income inequality and weakening social safety nets increase political polarization and encourage xenophobia, racism, and homophobia.

Kayahan, B., Law, S., Bishop, I., & Watson, B. (2021). Relative Rankings of Communities in New Brunswick Using Community Well-Being Indicators from the Census. Atlantic Canada Economic Review, 2(1).

Abstract: We examine a set of well-being measures for New Brunswick communities over a 15-year period (2001-2016). Using Canadian census data at the sub-division level, we construct a community-level well-being index which includes the domains of income, education, housing, and employment. Our results confirm the severe differences between the overall well-being of First Nations communities in these domains relative to the rest of the province. Additionally, we find that communities in the top quartile of the well-being index tend to be in southern New Brunswick around the population centers of Moncton, Fredericton, and Saint John. In contrast, communities in the bottom quartile are in the eastern and northeastern parts of the province (e.g., the Acadian peninsula). Patterns for each domain are quite similar except for housing, where communities normally in the upper portion of the well-being distribution – around the population centers of Moncton, Fredericton, and Saint Andrews – tend to rank lower on this domain. Additionally, with respect to education, communities in the northern part of the province typically fare worse than those in southern New Brunswick, with some exceptions around Perth-Andover and Edmundston. Finally, we demonstrate that the distribution of these well-being indicators has remained remarkably stable over this 15-year period: communities at the top and at the bottom of the distribution have remained in these respective positions from 2001 to 2016.

Kong, N., Phipps, S., & Watson, B. (2021). Parental Economic Insecurity and Child Health. Economics & Human Biology, 101068.

Abstract: We explore the effects of parental economic insecurity on their children’s hyperactivity and anxiety. Our central argument is that even after controlling for current family income and employment status, parents may have legitimate feelings of economic insecurity, and these may be detrimental for their children. Data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Children and Youth indicate that the health of 2- to 5-year-old children is worse when parents report themselves to be “worried about having enough money to support the family.” In particular, boys are more hyperactive and girls are more anxious when parents feel less economically secure. Changes in parenting styles appear to be channels through which parental economic insecurity affects their children.

Daley, A., Rahman, M., & Watson, B. (2021). A Breath of Fresh Air: The Effect of Public Smoking Bans on Indigenous Youth. Health Economics, 30(6), 1517-1539.

Abstract: In general, past studies have estimated the average effect of public smoking bans on youth, ignoring differences across sub‐populations. We extend the literature by considering Indigenous youth, who are a vulnerable and previously unexamined group (however, our analysis excludes First Nations youth who live on reserve). We also consider previously unexamined outcomes among youth: self‐assessed health and subjective well‐being. Our difference-in‐differences estimates from Canada indicate that public bans reduced youth smoking and second‐hand exposure in public places, on average. There was no displacement on the extensive margin, but the bans increased the number of people who smoke in the homes of youth, conditional on the presence of smokers in the household. Beyond average effects, however, we find that public bans reduced second‐hand exposure in the homes of Indigenous youth (particularly Métis youth), on the extensive and intensive margins. The same youth experienced concurrent improvements in self‐assessed health and life satisfaction. We conclude that public bans mitigate disparities in health and well‐being between Indigenous and non‐Indigenous youth, but the extent varies across Indigenous sub‐populations, even within a particular country.

Watson, B., Daley, A., Rohde, N., & Osberg, L. (2020). Blown Off-Course? Unhealthy Vices of the Economically Insecure During the Great Recession. Journal of Economic Psychology. 80

Abstract: This paper adds to the “costs of recessions” literature by examining whether the Great Recession caused an increase in body mass index (BMI) among economically insecure working age adults. Using a difference-in-differences (DiD) design and two panels of the Canadian National Population Health Survey, we compare the pre-recession era (2004–2005) with the Great Recession (2008–2009). In addition to stratifying by gender, quantile regressions examine BMI changes at different points along the outcome distribution, and we extend our DiD model to examine how effects vary across income, education, and age. Our results suggest that the increased economic stress of job insecurity or joblessness during the Great Recession caused a 2-point increase in BMI for females, and a 3-point increase for males aged 45–64. Results weakly suggest that lower educated males who were economically insecure during the Great Recession also gained 3 BMI points. For working age Canadians of average height, this translates to a 12 and 20 lb (5.44 and 9.07 kilogram) increase for vulnerable females and males respectively.

Daley, A., Rahman, M., & Watson, B. (2020). Racial/ethnic differences in light of 100% smokefree state laws: Evidence from adults in the United States. Population Health Management, 24(3), 353-359.

Abstract: Background We estimate racial/ethnic differences in the association between 100% smokefree state laws and smoking, as well as self-reported health, to facilitate policy aimed at reducing disparities. Methods Our data pertain to adults aged 18 and older, obtained from the public-use Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (2002-2014). We exploit variation in the timing of 100% smokefree state laws using a difference-in-differences model. Examining heterogeneity across racial/ethnic minority groups, we consider the association between smokefree laws and the probability of being: a daily smoker (versus occasional); an occasional smoker (versus former); at the top of the self-reported health scale (versus the bottom). Results 100% smokefree state laws were not correlated with smoking among women. Moreover, racial/ethnic minority men who smoke occasionally were less likely to quit than White men, and our results suggest that smokefree laws did not reduce these disparities. However, there is evidence that smokefree laws reduced the probability of being a daily smoker for Asian and Hispanic/Latinx men, but not the probability of quitting or being at the top of the self-reported health scale. More generally, smokefree laws were not associated with self-reported health, except there may have been an improvement among non-smoking American Indian/Alaska Native women. Conclusions These findings underscore the importance of looking beyond average effects to consider how 100% smokefree state laws impact racial/ethnic minorities. There is evidence they reduced smoking and improved self-reported health for some groups, but a suite of tobacco control policies is necessary to reduce racial/ethnic disparities more broadly.

Watson, B. & Osberg, L. (2019). Can Positive Income Shocks Reverse the Mental Health Impacts of Negative Income Shocks? Economics & Human Biology, 35, 107-122.

Abstract: Prospect theory suggests losses are more influential than equivalent sized gains in individual level decision-making. Extending this literature, we use longitudinal National Population Health Survey data (2000–01 to 2010–11) to investigate whether experienced psychological distress impacts of greater economic insecurity for working age Canadians can be fully reversed by equal sized increases in security. Economic insecurity (security) is defined as the probability of an annual income decrease (increase) of 25 percent or more. Our identification strategy employs fixed effects estimation and a set of instruments to control for unobserved heterogeneity and reverse causality. Results suggest that an initial one standard deviation increase in economic insecurity predicts a rise in psychological distress of about 0.57 standard deviations for males and 0.54 standard deviations for females. Good economic news of a similar magnitude has considerably less impact, reducing psychological distress by 0.16 and 0.35 standard deviations for males and females respectively.

Watson, B. & Osberg, L. (2018). Job Insecurity and Mental Health in Canada. Applied Economics, 50(38), 4137-4152. 

Abstract: Using six cycles of Canada’s longitudinal National Population Health Survey data (2000–2001 to 2010–2011), this article examines the relationship between job insecurity and mental health. Job insecurity is evaluated in both subjective (perception of job insecurity) and objective (probability of joblessness) terms while mental health is measured using a standardized psychological distress index. Applying a person-specific fixed-effects estimator, results indicate that for males and females age 25–64, job insecurity, regardless of how it is measured, is associated with an increase in psychological distress. Results regarding unemployment are not as conclusive, suggesting that it is not so much the actual occurrence of job loss but the threat of unemployment that is associated with higher psychological distress. Estimates of the relationship between job insecurity and psychological distress using pooled ordinary least squares are much larger, implying that much of the psychological distress/job insecurity correlation may be due to unobservable fixed characteristics. All results are robust to the inclusion and exclusion of a host of other potential determinants including income-related variables, education, and various health measures.

Watson, B. (2018). Does Economic Insecurity Cause Weight Gain Among Canadian Labour Force Participants? Review of Income and Wealth, 64(2), 406-427.

Abstract: The National Population Health Survey (NPHS) suggests that for labor force participants age 25 to 64, the prevalence of self-reported obesity in Canada has increased from 16 percent in 1998 to 23 percent in 2008. Using six cycles of NPHS data (1998–2009), I explore Canadas obesity dilemma by considering the effect of economic insecurity—measured as the probability of an individual experiencing a severe negative economic shock. As an identification strategy, a fixed effects model is employed to control for unobserved time-invariant heterogeneity and a set of instruments based on an individuals economic environment are specified in order to isolate causality. Results suggest that for males age 25 to 64, a 1 percent increase in economic insecurity is predicted to increase their body mass index (BMI) by 0.10 points. For females age 25 to 64, the association between economic insecurity and BMI is statistically insignificant at conventional confidence levels.

Watson, B. & Osberg, L. (2017). Healing and/or Breaking? The Mental Health Implications of Repeated Economic Insecurity. Social Science & Medicine, 188, 119-127.

Abstract: Current literature confirms the negative consequences of contemporaneous economic insecurity for mental health, but ignores possible implications of repeated insecurity. This paper asks how much a person's history of economic insecurity matters for psychological distress by contrasting the implications of two models. Consistent with the health capital literature, the Healing model suggests psychological distress is a stock variable affected by shocks from life events, with past events having less impact than more recent shocks. Alternatively, the Breaking Point model considers that high levels of distress represent a distinct shift in life state, which occurs if the accumulation of past life stresses exceeds some critical value. Using five cycles of Canadian National Population Health Survey data (2000e2009), we model the impact of past economic insecurity shocks on current psychological distress in a way that can distinguish between these hypotheses. In our sample of 1775 males and 1883 females aged 25 to 64, we find a robust healing effect for one-time economic insecurity shocks. For males, only a recent one-time occurrence of economic insecurity is predictive of higher current psychological distress (0.19 standard deviations). Moreover, working age adults tend to recover from past accumulated experiences of economic insecurity if they were recently economically secure. However, consistent with the Breaking Point hypothesis, males experiencing three or four cycles of recent insecurity are estimated to have a level of current psychological distress that is 0.26e0.29 standard deviations higher than those who were employed and job secure throughout the same time period.We also find, consistent with other literature, distinct gender differences - for working age females, all economic insecurity variables are statistically insignificant at conventional levels. Our results suggest that although Canadians are resilient to one-time insecurity shocks, males most vulnerable to repeated bouts suffer from elevated levels of psychological distress.

Watson, B., Osberg, L., & Phipps, S. (2016). Economic Insecurity and the Weight Gain of Canadian Adults: A Natural Experiment Approach. Canadian Public Policy, 42(2), 115-131.

Abstract: Using four cycles of longitudinal National Population Health Survey (NPHS) data from 1994 to 2001, we examine whether increasing economic insecurity causes weight gain and obesity. In July 1996, Bill C-12 reduced Canadian unemployment insurance benefits considerably, arguably increasing the economic insecurity of Canadians exposed to unemployment risk. Using a difference-in-difference methodology, this paper compares the change in weight gain of adults 25 to 64 before and after this policy shift. For poorly educated males, the onset of unemployment in the post-policy change era is predicted to increase their body mass index (BMI) by 3.2 points.