Recent and Key Publications

Recent Publications with Wide Significance

The Life-cycle Benefits of an Influential Early Childhood Program

by Jorge Luis García, James J. Heckman, Duncan Ermini Leaf, María José Prados


Paper (.pdf)    

Web Appendices (.pdf)    


"A Nobel Prize winner says public preschool programs should start at birth" The Washington Post. December 12, 2016. Emma Brown.

"Public Preschool Education That Starts at Birth Would Be Better for the Economy, According to New Research" New York Magazine. December 12, 2016. Lisa Ryan.

"How Investing In Preschool Beats The Stock Market, Hands Down" NPR. December 12, 2016. Eric Westervelt.

"Preschool brings bigger than expected economic returns, economists say" Southern California Public Radio. December 12, 2016. Deepa Fernandes.

"Why Doesn't Public School Start at Birth?" The Atlantic. December 12, 2016. Emily DeRuy.

"High ROI: Why preschool programs are a good investment for society" The Christian Science Monitor. December 12, 2016. Amanda Hoover.

"Morning Report" Politico. December 12, 2016. Caitlin Emma.


This paper estimates the large array of long-run benefits of an influential early childhood program targeted to disadvantaged children and their families. It is evaluated by random assignment and follows participants through their mid-30s. The program is a prototype for numerous interventions currently in place around the world. It has substantial beneficial impacts on (a) health and the quality of life, (b) the labor incomes of participants, (c) crime, (d) education, and (e) the labor income of the mothers of the participants through subsidizing their childcare. There are substantially greater monetized benefits for males. The overall rate of return is a statistically significant 13.0% per annum with an associated benefit/cost ratio of 6.3. These estimates account for the welfare costs of taxation to finance the program. They are robust to a wide variety of sensitivity analyses. Accounting for substitutes to treatment available to families randomized out of treatment shows that boys benefit much less than girls from low quality alternative childcare arrangements.



The Scandinavian Fantasy: The Sources of Intergenerational Mobility in Denmark and the U.S.

by Rasmus Landersø (The Rockwool Foundation) and James J. Heckman


This paper examines the sources of differences in social mobility between the U.S. and Denmark. Measured by income mobility, Denmark is a more mobile society, but not when measured by educational mobility. There are pronounced nonlinearities in income and educational mobility in both countries. Greater Danish income mobility is largely a consequence of redistributional tax, transfer, and wage compression policies. While Danish social policies for children produce more favorable cognitive test scores for disadvantaged children, these do not translate into more favorable educational outcomes, partly because of disincentives to acquire education arising from the redistributional policies that increase income mobility.


"The Scandinavian fantasy: The sources of intergenerational mobility in Denmark and the US." Vox EU. September 12, 2016. Rasmus Landersø, James Heckman.

"This country has figured out the only way to save the American Dream." The Washington Post. August 3, 2016. Matt O'Brien.

The Atlantic. August 2, 2016. Derek Thompson.">"Denmark Isn't Magic." The Atlantic. August 2, 2016. Derek Thompson.

Early Childhood Education

by Sneha Elango, Jorge Luis García, James J. Heckman, and Andrés Hojman
Prepared for Means-Tested Transfer Programs in the United States, Volume II, edited by Robert A. Moffitt


This paper organizes and synthesizes the literature on early childhood education and childcare. In it, we go beyond meta-analysis and reanalyze primary data sources in a common framework. We consider the evidence from means-tested demonstration programs, large-scale means-tested programs and universal programs without means testing. We discuss which programs are effective and whether, and for which populations, these programs should be subsidized by governments. The evidence from high-quality demonstration programs targeted toward disadvantaged children shows beneficial effects. Returns exceed costs, even accounting for the deadweight loss of collecting taxes. When proper policy counterfactuals are constructed, Head Start has beneficial effects on disadvantaged children compared to home alternatives. Universal programs benefit disadvantaged children.



Inequality in Human Capital and Endogenous Credit Constraints

by Rong Hai, James J. Heckman, and Andrés Hojman
Forthcoming in Review of Economic Dynamics


This paper investigates the determinants of inequality in human capital with an emphasis on the role of the credit constraints. We develop and estimate a model in which individuals face uninsured human capital risks and invest in education, acquire work experience, accumulate assets and smooth consumption. Agents can borrow from the private lending market and from government student loan programs. The private market credit limit is explicitly derived by extending the natural borrowing limit of Aiyagari (1994) to incorporate endogenous labor supply, human capital accumulation, psychic costs of working, and age. We quantify the effects of cognitive ability, noncognitive ability, parental education, and parental wealth on educational attainment, wages, and consumption. We conduct counterfactual experiments with respect to tuition subsidies and enhanced student loan limits and evaluate their effects on educational attainment and inequality. We compare the performance of our model with an influential ad hoc model in the literature with education-specific fixed loan limits. We find evidence of substantial life cycle credit constraints that affect human capital accumulation and inequality. The constrained fall into two groups: those who are permanently poor over their lifetimes and a group of well-endowed individuals with rising high levels of acquired skills who are constrained early in their life cycles. Equalizing cognitive and noncognitive ability has dramatic effects on inequality. Equalizing parental backgrounds has much weaker effects. Tuition costs have weak effects on inequality.

The Nurse Family Partnership Program: a Reanalysis of the Memphis Randomized Controlled Trial

by James J. Heckman, Maggie Holland, David Olds, Rodrigo Pinto, and Maria Rosales


Between 2012-2015, the federal home visiting program served more than three hundred thousand disadvantaged families and children in the US. Among the evidence-based home visiting models, the Nurse-Family Partnership (NFP) is the most influential. The program offers home visits conducted by nurses during pregnancy and early childhood for first-time disadvantaged mothers. This paper evaluates the randomized controlled trial of the NFP program conducted in Memphis, TN (1990). We conduct inference for the intervention treatment effects using a permutation-based test that accounts for the NFP randomization protocol. The method is valid for small sample sizes and corrects for multiple-hypothesis testing. We also examine the underlying mechanisms generating the treatment effects. We decompose the NFP treatment effects into components associated with the intervention-enhanced parenting and early childhood skills. We find that NFP improved home investments, parenting attitudes and mental health for mothers of female and male infants at age 2. At age 6, NFP boosted cognitive skills for both genders and socio-emotional skills for females. We find evidence that these treatment effects are explained by the improvement of maternal traits and early-life family investments. At age 12, the treatment effects for males persisted in the form of boosting achievement test scores. These effects are mostly explained by enhanced cognitive skills at age 6.