Professor Peter Howley


I have worked as an economist for an agricultural/rural development agency in Galway, Ireland (Teagasc), a Lecturer and then subsequently Senior Lecturer in Economics within the Environment Department at the University of York. I took up a position as an Associate Professor in the Economics Department at the University of Leeds in May 2018 and promoted to full Professor in December 2019. While an economist by training, my research is eclectic and interdisciplinary. My research has been published in leading economics journals such as the European Economic Review, Journal of Economic Behavior and Organisation, Oxford Economic Papers and Economic Inquiry as well as a variety of leading field journals such as the American Journal of Agricultural Economics, Land Economics and Ecological Economics. I have also published papers in leading interdisciplinary journals such as Social Science and Medicine, Global Environmental Change, Work, Employment and Society and Journal of Rural Studies.

Research interests

In recent times much of my focus has been on the 'economics of happiness’ and this work typically involves using indicators of subjective well-being as a proxy utility indicator. I then generally develop panel-data models sometimes coupled with quasi-experimental methods in order to explore the influence of factors as diverse as diet and immigration for people’s self-reported well-being. Of particular relevance in the current political climate, I currently lead an interdisciplinary team of researchers on a project funded by the Nuffield foundation concerned with determining the relationship between immigration and people's self-reported well-being. Some of our initial findings are summarised here. I am also involved in a project exploring the mental health consequences associated with Covid-19 summarised here.

Apart from a quest to better understand the factors that can improve our quality of life, more recently I have begun to explore the potential of using perceived well-being as a framework to help us better understand social and economic behaviour. This ranges from Brexit and labour market hysteresis to farmers reluctance to adopt certain efficiency-enhancing farm practices.

After my PhD, I worked as an agricultural economist for a semi-state authority in the agri-food sector for a number of years and still maintain an active research programme in the environmental and agricultural sector, particularly surrounding farmer behaviour. My previous research in this area has illustrated the importance of considering non-monetary drivers such as non-pecuniary benefitsproductivist attitudes and risk aversion when seeking to understand and predict farmers’ behaviour (e.g. when faced with new farm practices or policy changes). Following on from this work, I am currently a Co-I on an ambitious interdisciplinary project, I Know Food, funded by the Global Food Security Programme. Along with my collaborator on this work (Neel Ocean), we have conducted a number of randomised survey experiments with farmers looking at, among other things, the application of key insights from social psychology and behavioural economics in encouraging (nudging) conservation farm practices and technology uptake. A good overall illustration of some of this work can be obtained here.

Finally, I have worked on (and continue to do so to varying degrees) a number of issues in the environmental and resource economics domain. This work is varied and involves among other things the effect of weather on crime, the valuation of environmental goods and services, environmental attitudes and the determinants of pro-environmental behaviour. While I principally use quantitative methods, I also dabble with qualitative research methods on various projects mostly in the environmental/agricultural sector and generally led by talented postgraduate students.

I currently supervise a number of PhD and postdoctoral researchers working on areas related to the work described above. I am interested in hearing from enthusiastic potential PhD students (or anyone else for that matter) interested in working in any of these areas. The funkier the idea the better!

Selected recent publications (see webpage for more details)

Economics of happiness

  • Anaya, L. Howley, P. Waqas, M., and Yalonetzky, G. (2023) Locked down in distress: A quasi-experimental estimation of the mental health fallout from the covid-19 pandemic, Economic Inquiry, In press.
  • Ocean, N. and Howley, P. (2023) Which motivations would make farmers happier, and which would they choose? Land Economics, 99(3) 458-476.
  • Chaudhuri, K., and Howley, P. (2022) The impact of covid-19 vaccination for mental health. European Economic Review, 150, 104293.
  • Howley, P. and Waqas, M. (2022) Identity, immigration and subjective well-being. Oxford Economic Papers, 1-21.
  • Howley, P. and Knight, S. (2021) Staying down with the Joneses: Differences in the psychological cost of unemployment across neighbourhoods, Work, Employment and Society, 36, 1097-1117.
  • Howley, P., Waqas, M., Moro, M., Delaney, L. and Heron, T. (2020) It's not all about the economy stupid! Immigration and self-reported well-being in England. Work, Employment and Society, 1-18.
  • Ocean, N., Howley, P. and Ensor, J. (2019) Lettuce Be Happy: A longitudinal UK Study on the relationship between fruit and vegetable consumption and well-being. Social Science and Medicine, 335-345.
  • Howley, P. (2017) Less money or better health? Evaluating individuals’ willingness to make trade-offs using life satisfaction data. Journal of Economic Behaviour and Organisation, 135-53-65.
  • Howley, P., Dillon, E., Heanue, K. and Meredith, D. (2017) Worth the risk? The behavioural path to well-being. Journal of Agricultural Economics 68, 534-552.
  • Howley, P., O Neill, S. and Atkinson, R. (2015) Who needs good neighbours? Environment and Planning A, 47, 939-956.

Nudges/Behavioural change

  • Howley, P. and Ocean, N. (2022) Can nudging only get you so far? Testing for nudge combination effects, European Review of Agricultural Economics, 49, 1086-1112. 
  • Howley, P. and Ocean, N. (2021) Doing more with less: Leveraging social norms and status concerns in encouraging conservation farm practices. Land Economics, 97, 372-387.
  • Ocean, N. and Howley, P. (2021) Using choice framing to improve the design of agricultural subsidy schemes. Land Economics, 933-950.

Environmental Economics and Farmer Behaviour

  • Howley, P. (2015) The happy farmer: the effect of nonpecuniary benefits on behaviour. American Journal of Agricultural Economics, 97, 1072-1096.
  • Howley, P., Buckley, C., Donoghue, C. and Ryan, M. (2015) Explaining the economic ‘irrationality’ of farmers’ land use behaviour: the role of productivist attitudes and non-pecuniary benefits. Ecological Economics, 109, 186-193.
  • Marr, E. and Howley, P. (2019) The accidental environmentalists: factors affecting farmer’s adoption of pro-environmental activities in England and Ontario. Journal of Rural Studies, 68, 1000-111.
  • Ensor, J., Mohan, T., Forrester, J., Khisa, U.K., Karim, T. and Howley, P. (2021) Opening space for equity and justice in resilience: a subjective approach to household resilience assessment. Global Environmental Change, 68.
  • Trujillo, J. and Howley, P. (2021) The effect of weather on crime in a ‘Torrid’ urban zone. Environment and Behavior, 53, 69-90.

Selection of recent blogs

Research funding: I have been involved in research grants totalling £4 million. My own individual component as PI or Co-I comes to £825k.

  • Waqas, M., Howley, P. and Yalonetzky, G. (£255,000) The role of the neighbourhood environment in moderating the well-being impact of Covid-19, 2020-2022 (Co-I) 
  • Howley, P. Moro, M., Heron, T. and Delaney, L. (£188,000) Immigration and well-being. Nuffield foundation (Immigration and well-being). PI.
  • Sccarpa, R., Howley, P., Panzone, L. and Thankappan, S. (£29,000) Cost-effective supply chain for livestock in Ethopia. N8 Strategic pump priming, 2017-2018. Co-I.
  • Doherty, B., Christiansen, P., Ensor, J., Grieve, B., Halford, J., Heron, T., Howley, P., Ozanyan, K., Petrie, H., Pickett, K. and West, C. (£3.4m), Iknow Food, BBSRC, 2016-2020. Co-I
  • Howley, P. and McClean, C. ESRC PhD Studentship co-financed with Environment Department, (£51,000), 2014-2017. PI.
  • Doherty, B. et al. N8 Industry Innovation Forum (£27,000), 2015.
  • Howley, P. Offaly Local Development Authority (€30,000), 2012.
  • Howley, P., Buckley, C. and O Donoghue, C. (€88,000) Public attitudes towards water quality. Environmental Protection Agency, 2011-2012. PI.
  • Howley, P., Buckley, C. and O Donoghue, C. (€86,000), The drivers of river water quality. Environmental Protection Agency, 2011-2012. PI.

Student education

I have substantive experience developing and teaching a wide variety of modules at both undergraduate and postgraduate level including Applied Economics, Environmental Economics, Environmental Valuation, Resource Economics and Research Methods. Here at Leeds I currently teach a second year Research Methods module and contribute to a first year Economic Controversies module. In addition to teaching I also supervise a significant number of PhD candidates working on a diverse range of topics worldwide. 

Current postgraduate researchers