AS MEDICAL RESEARCHERS develop effective treatments
for once-fatal diseases, what happens when new treatments
allow patients to live years longer than expected?
Many turn their lives around in dramatic fashion,
according to a multidisciplinary team of scholars. The
team includes Nicholas Papageorge of the department
of economics at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore,
Maryland; Gwyn Pauley of the department of
economics at the University of Wisconsin–Madison;
Mardge Cohen, a physician at Rush University and
Stroger Hospital in Chicago, Illinois; Tracey E. Wilson
of the department of community health sciences at the
SUNY Downstate Health Sciences University School
of Public Health in Brooklyn, New York; and Barton
H. Hamilton and Robert A. Pollak, both professors of
economics at the Olin Business School at Washington
University in St. Louis, Missouri.
The researchers analyzed data from the Women’s
Intra-Agency HIV Study, an ongoing longitudinal study
that began in 1994. They focused on asymptomatic
women infected with the human immunodeficiency
virus who had recently begun a new treatment called
Highly Active Anti-Retroviral Therapy (HAART).
HAART has reduced mortality rates among those
infected with HIV by 80 percent.
Most women in the sample earned lower incomes and
had less education than average U.S. women, and they
were disproportionately affected by HIV. After HAART,
the expectation of potentially living 30 years longer motivated
these women to make significant changes to their
lives—drug use decreased by 15 percent to 20 percent
and incidents of domestic abuse dropped by 15 percent.
These women “took this second chance and ran with it,”
says Papageorge. The economic impact can be significant:
In the U.S., medical costs associated with domestic
violence alone are estimated to be US$5.8 billion.
New medical treatments are likely to dramatically
affect the decisions people make, says Hamilton. “In
economics, we don’t have too many situations where
we can study such a big shock.”
“Health, Human Capital and Domestic Violence” is
forthcoming in the Journal of Human Resources.