Consumer Behavior and Family Economics

PhD in Consumer Behavior and Family Economics

The Ph.D. program in Human Ecology: Consumer Behavior and Family Economics develops scholars able to apply social science theories to understanding household and consumer interactions within the marketplace and the public sector. Students undertake research on consumer decision-making affecting the social and economic well-being of individuals and families. This is a multi-disciplinary degree program. The goal of this program is to preparePicture of Stairs. students for the following types of job placements:

1. Tenure-track academic faculty positions, primarily in other schools of human ecology, consumer science or related units
2. Research administration positions in government, non-tenure academic units, nonprofit organizations, think tanks and related entities
3. Applied consumer research in the public and private sector, including market research, policy research and consulting.

Requirements: The Ph.D. degree is designed for completion in four semesters of full-time coursework plus
dissertation work. A minimum of 51 credits of graduate work is required. Requirements include Consumer Science courses, advanced statistics and research methods, field courses in either Consumer Behavior or Family Economics and research and dissertation credits.

What Makes this Program Unique
  • In-depth skills and training for professional researchers, including:
    • Empirical methods, experimental methods and causal inference
    • Analysis of major public datasets as well as administrative data
    • Understanding of consumer and household well-being theories and applications
    • Understanding of decision-making theories and models
  • An emphasis on applications and applied research for strategy and policymaking in the public and private sectors
  • Access to the extensive courses, faculty, resources and expertise of disciplinary departments and centers across the UW-Madison campus
  • The potential for an intensive, four-year time to degree
  • The ability to develop disciplinary or field sub-specialties, certificates and minor designations
  • A focus on teaching, teaching experiences, outreach and presenting findings for the public
  • An emphasis on publication and dissemination of research as a graduate student, including support to attend professional conferences
  • Access to facilities including a behavioral decision making lab, high quality statistics servers and unique datasets
  • Opportunities to conduct research with centers and institutes across campus
  • Multi-year funding available, including tuition and stipends
  • A small program with approximately 6 students admitted and 20 students total
Graduate Faculty

Fenaba R. Addo | Assistant Professor
MS & Ph.D. Cornell University; BS, Duke
Research:  I research economic resources and family functioning, family structure and well-being, and debt and wealth inequality.
Grad Courses: Family Economic Policy Seminar
Affiliations: Center for Demography and Ecology; Institute for Research on Poverty; Center for Financial Security;  the LaFollette School of Public Affairs, Department of Sociology

Lydia Ashton | Assistant Professor
Ph.D., University of California, Berkeley; B.S., Universidad de Monterrey
Grad Courses: Experimental and Behavioral Seminar
Research: Psychology and economics, experimental economics, and public economics, including lab and field experiments and big data to study psychology and physiology (e.g. inattention, fatigue, hunger) and economic decision-making.
Affiliations:  Institute for Research on Poverty; Center for Financial Security; BRITE Lab

Judi Bartfeld  | Outreach Professor
Ph.D., Social Welfare, University of Wisconsin – Madison
Research:  I am interested in the economic well-being of vulnerable families.  My primary focus is on patterns, causes, and consequences of food insecurity, and the role of food assistance programs.  I also study the economic circumstances of single-parent families and the role of child support and child custody arrangements.
Grad Courses:  I work with graduate students in and out of the department, but do not currently teach graduate courses.
Affiliations:  Division of Extension; Institute for Research on Poverty; Center for Financial Security; Applied Population Lab

Megan Doherty Bea | Associate Professor
Ph.D. Cornell University ; BA Bryn Mawr College
Grad Courses: Methods Seminar
Research: Economic sociology, sociology of finance, social stratification, and financial policy that shape financial inequalities and micro-level economic and financial outcomes of individuals, using a variety of methodological approaches, including archival research and spatial and quantitative analysis.
Affiliations: Center for Financial Security; Center for Demography and Ecology

Michael Collins | Professor
Ph.D., Cornell University; M.P.P. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, B.S. Miami University.
Research:  I study how public policies influence financial decisions, capability and well-being, with a focus on field studies, evaluations and administrative data.
Grad Courses: Family Economic Policy Seminar; Household Finance
Affiliations: Center for Financial Security;  the LaFollette School of Public Affairs; Center for Demography and Ecology; Institute for Research on Poverty

Clifford Robb | Associate Professor
Ph.D., University of Missouri; MS, University of Alabama
Research: I study financial literacy, capability and decision-making, especially related to young adults, including measured financial satisfaction and subjective well-being.
Grad Courses: Topical workshops; I work with graduate students across UW, but do not currently teach graduate courses in CBFE.
Affiliations: Center for Financial Security

Nancy Wong | Department Chair | Kohl's Chair in Retail Innovation
Ph.D., Marketing, University of  Michigan;  MA, Social Psychology, Michigan); MBA, Marketing, - UCLA; BBA, Accounting, York University
Research: I study interplay of cultures and values in consumer decision making in the areas of personal finance, health and sustainability.
Grad Courses: Advanced Consumer Behavior, Introduction to Research Methods
Affiliations:  Center for Financial Security; Marketing Department

Yiwei Zhang | Assistant Professor
Ph.D., University of Pennsylvania; BS, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Research: I study financial decision-making and how such decisions affect well-being and market outcomes. My research also explores how the financial decisions of households may be unintentionally influenced by features of the surrounding institutional environment.
Grad Courses: Graduate Seminar - Research Methods
Affiliations: Center for Financial Security

Program Milestones

Working with the student, the advisor determines if and when the student is prepared to complete each of five program “milestones”:

1. Preliminary Exam
2. Field Paper
3. Dissertation Proposal
4. Teaching Fellowship (teaching as a Lecturer SA)
5. Dissertation Defense

Current CBFE Students

Felix Zhan | 4th year
Research: Consumer behavior, including communication mechanisms that encourage consumers to engage mindful consumption.

Yiling Zhang | 2nd year
Research: Applied economics research, including behavior economics, to design of consumer protection policies and family support policies.

Madeline Reed| 2nd year
Research: Consumer decision making as it relates to health, nutrition and human wellbeing behavioral economics with the goal of providing useful information for individuals, health care entities, and policy makers.

Yao Zhao | 2nd year
Research: Social preference, behavioral game theory and experimental economics to understand consumer decision making.

Diandian YILIN | 2nd year
Research: How people interact in the marketplace, using theories from psychology, economics, and behavioral-industrial organization.

Angela Fitzgerald Ward | 2nd year
Research: Translational research on financial capability and well-being of historically disenfranchised communities.

Trisha Chanda | 2nd year
Research: Applied behavioral economics to aid in improved decision-making of households living in poverty.

Brett Puetz| 1st year
Research: Consumer decisions.

Xiangchen Liu | 1st year
Research: Behavioral economics and personal finance

Somalis Chy| 1st year
Research: Consumer well-being.

PhD Student Placements (2012-present)

Dee Warmath (2012)
University of Georgia  | Assistant Professor

Nilton Porto (2014)
University of Rhode Island | Assistant Professor)

Sunyee Yoon (2016)
State University of New York at Buffalo | Assistant Professor

Kathryn Carroll (2017)
University of Central Arkansas | Assistant Professor

Dominik M Piehlmaier (2018)
University of Sussex Business School | Assistant Professor

Fei Men (2018)
University of Toronto | Post Doc

Madelaine L’Esperance (2019)
The University of Alabama | Assistant Professor

Financial Aid

General UW-Madison graduate student funding information
Or, contact the Office of Student Financial Aid, 333 East Campus Mall, 608-262-3060.

Program Contact

Michael Collins

J. Michael Collins
Fetzer Family Chair in Consumer and Personal Finance, Professor
608-616-0369 | jmcollins@wisc.edu


Sign up for updates on the CBFE PhD, reminders in applications, and events.