Dulbea postdoc awarded Marie Curie grant to research mental well-being within the remote workforce
A Postdoctoral Researcher at the Department of Applied Economics (Dulbea), Sofía Fernández Guerrico, has been awarded a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions (MSCA) Individual Fellowship (IF) to study, together with Professor Ilan Tojerow (Dulbea), the link between work-related ICT use after regular work hours and mental well-being.
There is a growing concern that constant connectivity to work may disrupt work-life balance and be detrimental workers’ mental well-being. High-speed internet enables the work-related use of computers, mobile phones, and digital devices at home. This research project will investigate the impact of diffusion of high-speed internet on mental health-related outcomes.
Since the late 1990s, governments around the world have allocated large amounts of public funds to develop high-speed internet access via broadband infrastructure. Between 2004 and 2011 the percentage of EU households connected to the internet via broadband rose from 15 to 67%; only a few technologies in recent history can match this speed and depth of diffusion. Residential high-speed internet access has altered how, when, and where individuals conduct a wide range of activities, including work. Despite the growing number of studies analyzing the effects of broadband Internet access on a wide range of socioeconomic and labor market outcomes, there is scant causal evidence on the link between residential internet use and individual’s mental well-being and health.
Although establishing the causal relationship between internet use and individual outcomes remains an empirical challenge, it is extremely relevant in the current context for two main reasons. First, the Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated pre-existing challenges posed by the ever-increasing interactions between constant internet connectivity, work-life balance more generally and mental health specifically. Bearing this exceptional reality in mind alongside broader trends that encourage more work outside the conventional office, this project adopts a novel empirical strategy to estimate the causal effects of upgrades in the available ICT on individuals’ mental well-being. Second, understanding the causal link between work-from-home after regular work hours and mental health has important policy implications given that countries are in the process of introducing legislation and regulations aimed at protecting the rights of teleworkers. This project will contribute to the better understanding of how “right-to-disconnect” policies that being currently discussed in several EU countries could be effective at mitigating health effects of constant internet connectivity.
At the center of the analysis lies the construction of an extremely rich collection of microdata that will allow the researcher to estimate the causal effect of changes in the available ICT on mental health-related outcomes and to explore the underlying channels. This research project intersects with studies charting the work productivity impact of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT), public policy analyses explaining the sharp and recent rise in mental health-related disability claims and academic work that links technological innovations like the extension of internet capabilities to labor market outcomes.
During the fellowship, Sofía will be based at the Dulbea, which offers extensive material means in terms of socio-economic databases, infrastructure for running RCTs, and links with the policy world. The Dulbea has indeed been granted access to several databases for the coming years, including Social Security administrative datasets, the Budget Household Survey and the Belgian Employer-Employee Dataset. Furthermore, the Dulbea benefits from privileged connections with the field due to its long history of policy evaluation, which provides researchers the exciting opportunity to do cutting-edge research such as performing randomized experiments in cooperation with public institutions. Such innovative experiments are currently being conducted in cooperation with both federal and regional agencies. The extensive material and intellectual capacity within the Dulbea, equally in terms of sector-specific knowledge than in terms of technical skills, will provide the research project with the necessary support to perform the research under the best conditions.
About the authors
Sofía Fernández Guerrico received her PhD in Economics from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. As a Postdoctoral Researcher at the Dulbea, Sofía is currently working on research projects at the intersection between Labor Economics and Health Economics. Her previous research examines the effects of trade-induced economic shocks on labor market outcomes, health, and migration.
Ilan Tojerow is the Director of the Dulbea and an Associate Professor at the Solvay Brussels School of Economics and Management (SBM-EM). He is also a Research fellow at IZA-Bonn. In addition to his recent publications on topics such as the effect of parental unemployment on their children labor supply, the link between education outcomes and religious denominations, and the effect of credit constraints on employment, he has developed a more specific research agenda studying the diverse factors and various contexts that could explain why individuals enter or exit disability programs (see for example De Brouwer et al., 2019, Leduc & Tojerow, 2020 and Fontenay & Tojerow, 2020).
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