Many believe that America is gradually fragmenting into two societies, one affluent and one impoverished. James J. Heckman believes that the gap in access to high-quality early childhood learning experiences is hastening that fragmentation. But early intervention can make a difference.
Heckman has analyzed investments in early childhood programs and determined that the greatest gains can be made at earlier ages because the social skills learned by the very young set a pattern for acquiring important life skills later in life. Development of these non-cognitive skills such as determination, motivation, and social skills are often shaped by families and non-institutional environments and ultimately lead to success later in life.
Heckman’s message that high-quality early intervention can lessen the economic divide is particularly relevant today as policymakers are faced with difficult decisions about how to use funds wisely.
Heckman is the Henry Schultz Distinguished Service Professor of Economics at the University of Chicago, where he has served since 1973. In 2000, he shared the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel with Daniel McFadden. Heckman directs the Economics Research Center and the Center for Social Program Evaluation at the Harris School for Public Policy. In addition, he is the professor of science and society in University College Dublin and a senior research fellow at the American Bar Foundation.
His work has been devoted to the development of a scientific basis for economic policy evaluation, with special emphasis on models of individuals and disaggregated groups, and to the problems and possibilities created by heterogeneity, diversity, and unobserved counterfactual states. He developed new econometric tools that address these issues. He is well-known for his empirical research in labor economics, particularly regarding the efficacy of early childhood education programs. In addition, his research has given policymakers important new insights into areas such as education, job-training, the importance of accounting for general equilibrium in the analysis of labor markets, anti-discrimination law, and civil rights.
Heckman has received numerous awards for his work, including the John Bates Clark Award of the American Economic Association in 1983, the 2005 and 2007 Dennis Aigner Award for Applied Econometrics from the Journal of Econometrics, the 2007 Theodore W. Schultz Award from the American Agricultural Economics Association, and the 2005 Jacob Mincer Award for Lifetime Achievement in Labor Economics.
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