Recent and Key Publications
Publishing and Promotion in Economics: The Tyranny of the Top Five
"Economists care about where they publish—to the cost of the profession" The Economist. October 06, 2018.
"Pressure to publish in top journal stifles creativity in economic research, study shows" Phys.org. October 2, 2018.
"The Tyranny of the Top Five Journals" Institute for New Economic Thinking Blog Post. October 02, 2018. James J. Heckman and Sidharth Moktan.
"Why complain about top-5 journals? (Opinion)" The Chronicle of Higher Education. October 30, 2018. T. Koenig.
"UChicago Econ Paper: 'The Tyranny of the Top Five'" The Chicago Maroon. October 25, 2018. Y. Li.
"Study: Pressure to publish in top journals stifles creativity in economic research" UChicago News. October 1, 2018. J. Wang.
"How Much Does Publishing in Top Journals Boost Tenure Prospects? In Economics, a Lot" The Chronicle of Higher Education. October 1, 2018. A. Williams June.
This paper examines the relationship between placement of publications in Top Five (T5) journals and receipt of tenure in academic economics departments. Analyzing the job histories of tenure-track economists hired by the top 35 U.S. economics departments, we find that T5 publications have a powerful influence on tenure decisions and rates of transition to tenure. A survey of the perceptions of young economists supports the formal statistical analysis. Pursuit of T5 publications has become the obsession of the next generation of economists. However, the T5 screen is far from reliable. A substantial share of influential publications appears in non-T5 outlets. Reliance on the T5 to screen talent incentivizes careerism over creativity.
The Life-cycle Benefits of an Influential Early Childhood Program
"The most important year in a child’s life? Research points to preschool" WTOP. September 21, 2017. Rachel Nania.
"In West Pottsgrove, pre-K advocates press for increased state funding" The Mercury. September 20, 2017. Evan Brandt.
"Commentary: The future rests with Utah’s youngest residents — so expand the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit" The Salt Lake Tribune. September 10, 2017. Kris Perry.
"HIGH-QUALITY EARLY LEARNING AND CARE DRIVES LIFELONG SUCCESS" U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee. September, 2017.
"Why your children’s day care may determine how wealthy they become" The Washington Post. April 24, 2017. Danielle Paquette.
"New York City Will Offer Free Preschool for All 3-Year-Olds" The New York Times. April 24, 2017. Kate Taylor.
"How Child Care Enriches Mothers, and Especially the Sons They Raise" The New York Times. April 20, 2017. Claire Cain Miller.
"Morning Report" Politico. December 12, 2016. Caitlin Emma.
"High ROI: Why preschool programs are a good investment for society" The Christian Science Monitor. December 12, 2016. Amanda Hoover.
"Why Doesn't Public School Start at Birth?" The Atlantic. December 12, 2016. Emily DeRuy.
"Preschool brings bigger than expected economic returns, economists say" Southern California Public Radio. December 12, 2016. Deepa Fernandes.
"How Investing In Preschool Beats The Stock Market, Hands Down" NPR. December 12, 2016. Eric Westervelt.
"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.
"A Nobel Prize winner says public preschool programs should start at birth" The Washington Post. December 12, 2016. Emma Brown.
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 13.7% 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.
An Analysis of the Memphis Nurse-Family Partnership Program
"Amputee mom learns to care for baby with help from program" NOLA, The Times-Picayune. October 12, 2017. Celeste Turner.
"Home visiting has bipartisan support. So why did the federal program lapse?" Education Week. October 1, 2017. Christina Samuels.
"Nurse-Family Partnership Program supports first-time mothers" The Columbian. September 30, 2017. Marissa Harshman.
"If Congress can't agree on kids' health, then D.C. is more broken than we though" The Salt Lake Tribune. September 30, 2017. Robert Gehrke.
"Vista Unified's P-3 continuum: Closing the achievement gap before it opens" Education Week. September 28, 2017. Matt Doyle.
"New Orleans mayoral candidates must commit to invest in our young children" The Times-Picayune. September 27, 2017. Ron McClain.
"With deadline days away, fixes floundering for federal health, early ed programs serving 9M kids" The 74. September 27, 2017. Carolyn Phenicie.
"Clock ticking on federal funding for CHIP, other health safety net programs" Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. September 26, 2017. Kate Giammarise.
"Funding for home visiting set to expire, leaving early-intervention services in limbo for many" The Washington Post. September 22, 2017. Michael Alison Chandler.
"Time runs low for home-visiting act as Congress debates state buy in" Education Week. September 19, 2017. Christina Samuels.
"MIECHV match: House GOP gambles home visiting expansion on state’s ponying up" The Chronicle of Social Change. September 18, 2017. John Kelly.
"Close the preschool gap" U.S. News & World Report. Sept. 7, 2017. Sara Mead.
"Strong roots: Home visiting programs expand medical home into communities" AAP News & Journal. August 28, 2017. James H. Duffee.
"D.C.’s report on child fatalities shows progress – and more to be done" Washington Post. Date 00, 2017. Washington Post Editorial Board.
"Reviving the American dream starts at birth" Investor’s Business Daily. August 15, 2017. Joe Waters.
"‘Pay for success’ approach used to fund a program that supports new mothers" NPR. August 9, 2017. Michelle Andrews.
"The bipartisan case for reauthorizing home visiting programs" The Hill. Aug. 8, 2017. Christine Todd Whitman and Brad Henry.
"Home visiting advocates continue to urge movement as clock ticks" The Huffington Post. August 3, 2017. Adam Shapiro.
"Could more home visits improve outcomes for Mississippi moms and kids?" The Hechinger Report. July 29, 2017. Jackie Madar.
"How home visits by nurses help mothers and children, especially boy" The New York Times. July 25, 2017. Claire Cain Miller.
"Helping expectant and new mothers can lead to health and education gains for children, new paper says" Chalkbeat. July 24, 2017. Marissa Page.
"Evaluation by Nobel economist endorses nurse family partnership" The Chronicle of Social Change. July 24, 2017. John Kelly.
"Home nursing visits provide wide-ranging benefits for mothers, young children" EdSource. July 24, 2017. Ashley Hopkinson.
"Home-visiting study explores long-term benefits from early intervention" Education Week. July 24, 2017. Christina Samuels.
"Study shows impact of home visits for new moms, babies last long" KPCC. July 24, 2017. Priska Neely.
"Nobel winner's research shows home nurse visits for new moms boost children's cognitive skills" The 74 Million. July 24, 2017. Kevin Mahnken.
"Study: Memphis support program for new moms especially helps boys" NPR July 24, 2017. Robert Siegel.
This paper evaluates a randomized controlled trial of the Nurse-Family Partnership (NFP) program conducted in Memphis, TN in 1990. NFP offers home visits conducted by nurses for disadvantaged first-time mothers during pregnancy and early childhood. We test NFP treatment effects using permutation-based inference that accounts for the NFP randomization protocol. Our methodology is valid for small samples and corrects for multiple-hypothesis testing. We also analyze the underlying mechanisms generating these treatment effects. We decompose NFP treatment effects into components associated with the intervention-enhanced parenting and early childhood skills. The NFP improves home investments, parenting attitudes and mental health for mothers of infants at age 2. At age 6, the NFP boosts cognitive skills for both genders and socio-emotional skills for females. These treatment effects are explained by program-induced improvements in maternal traits and early-life family investments. At age 12, the treatment effects for males (but not for females) persist in the form of enhanced achievement test scores. Treatment effects are largely explained by enhanced cognitive skills at age 6. Our evidence of pronounced gender differences in response to early childhood interventions contributes to a growing literature on this topic.
Gender Differences in the Benefits of an Influential Early Childhood Program
This paper studies the life-cycle impacts of a widely-emulated high-quality, intensive early childhood program with long-term follow up. The program starts early in life (at 8 weeks of age) and is evaluated by an RCT. There are multiple treatment effects which we summarize through interpretable aggregates. Girls have a greater number of statistically significant treatment effects than boys and effect sizes for them are generally bigger. The source of this difference is worse home environments for girls with greater scope for improvement by the program. Fathers of sons support their families more than fathers of daughters.
Quantifying the Life-cycle Benefits of an Influential Early Childhood Program
This paper quantifies and aggregates the multiple lifetime benefits of an influential high- quality early childhood program with outcomes measured through midlife. Guided by economic theory, we supplement experimental data with non-experimental data to forecast the life-cycle benefits and costs of the program. Our point estimate of the internal rate of return is 13.7% with an associated benefit/cost ratio of 7.3. We account for model estimation and forecasting error and present estimates from extensive sensitivity analyses. This paper is a template for synthesizing experimental and non- experimental data using economic theory to estimate the long-run life-cycle benefits of social programs.
The Scandinavian Fantasy: The Sources of Intergenerational Mobility in Denmark and the U.S.
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
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
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 Non-Market Benefits of Education and Ability
This paper analyzes the non-market benefits of education and ability. Using a dynamic model of educational choice we estimate returns to education that account for selection bias and sorting on gains. We investigate a range of non-market outcomes including incarceration, mental health, voter participation, trust, and participation in welfare. We find distinct patterns of returns that depend on the levels of schooling and ability. Unlike the monetary benefits of education, the benefits to education for many non-market outcomes are greater for low-ability persons. College graduation decreases welfare use, lowers depression, and raises self-esteem more for less-able individuals.