Héctor Pifarré i Arolas joined the La Follette School’s faculty as an assistant professor this fall.
Originally from Barcelona, Pifarré i Arolas completed his doctoral studies at the Toulouse School of Economics in France. At the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research in Rostock, Germany, he worked as a postdoctoral research scientist. Pifarré i Arolas served as research director at the Center for Research in Health and Economics at Universitat Pompeu Fabra before coming to the La Follette School.
He took some time to answer questions about his research and first months at the school.
How have you been adjusting to life at the La Follette School?
Moving to Madison has been a great opportunity for me both professionally and on a personal level (my partner is an exceptional researcher in the Political Science department). UW–Madison hosts one of the best centers in demographic research in the world (Center for Demography and Ecology) and is an incredibly active research university. The La Follette School represents this well and is a highly stimulating research environment; my colleagues not only study a wide variety of policy-relevant topics, but they are also all established or emerging leaders in their fields. The school also has a strong focus on teaching. As an instructor, its core mission to teach the next generation of policy leaders how to craft evidence-based policy is exciting but also instills a sense of responsibility.
What is the focus of your research and why does it interest you?
I am an applied population economist. Generally, my research studies how we determine and measure inequalities in fertility, health, and mortality. The work I do often focuses on equity and ways to contribute to public policy evaluation and formation. I believe these topics are at the core of major societal policy issues in the U.S. and globally.
You recently co-authored a paper about political polarization and racial equality in pandemic mortality. Can you tell us a bit about what you found?
My most recent work has focused on racial and ethnic mortality disparities in the U.S., in the context of the pandemic but also more generally.
It is known that pre-existing socioeconomic and health disparities played a large role in the original disproportionate impact of the pandemic on certain ethnic/racial minorities. However, in a recent piece, we highlight the role that political polarization played in later stages of the pandemic when the gap in COVID-19-related mortality between Black and White individuals seemed to narrow. We find that the larger increases in White mortality can be linked to the growing differences in how concerned citizens were about the pandemic and the adoption of government suppression and containment policies, which grew along political lines (read the full article).
In another forthcoming project, colleagues and I have studied new ways to evaluate racial/ethnic mortality inequality that account for the underlying demographic differences between racial/ethnic groups. Essentially, we argue that current approaches may underestimate racial/ethnic disparities by not considering the differences in their population’s age structures. This is a technical piece, but I believe that it is highly policy-relevant, as our new approach may help guide health policy priorities.
What are you teaching in classes this semester?
I am teaching the undergraduate course Discovering What Works in Health Policy (PA 281) and Comparative and National Social Policy (PA 888). Both courses, in my opinion, embody the core mission of the La Follette School.