James J. Heckman Biography

Understanding the origins of major social and economic problems related to inequality, social mobility, discrimination, skill formation and regulation, and to devising and evaluating alternative strategies for addressing those problems.

heckman-2James J. Heckman has devoted his professional life to understanding the origins of major social and economic problems related to inequality, social mobility, discrimination, skill formation and regulation, and to devising and evaluating alternative strategies for addressing those problems. His work is rooted in economics, but he actively collaborates across disciplines to get to the heart of major problems. His recent interdisciplinary research on human development and skill formation over the life cycle draws on economics, psychology, genetics, epidemiology, and neuroscience to examine the origins of inequality, the determinants of social mobility, and the links among stages of the life cycle, starting in the womb.

Heckman has a BA (1965) in Mathematics from Colorado College and an MA (1968) and PhD (1971) in Economics from Princeton University. He has been at the Department of Economics at the University of Chicago since 1973. He was one of the founders of the Harris School of Public Policy, where he also has an appointment. Since 1991, he has been a research fellow at the American Bar Foundation and also holds an appointment at the Law School at the University of Chicago. In May 2014, he launched the Center for the Economics of Human Development at the University of Chicago which he directs.

In 2000, Heckman shared the Nobel Prize in Economics for his work on the microeconometrics of diversity and heterogeneity and for establishing a sound causal basis for public policy evaluation. He has received numerous other awards for his work, including the John Bates Clark Medal of the American Economic Association in 1983, the Jacob Mincer Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2005 from the Society of Labor Economics, the 2005 and 2007 Dennis Aigner Award for Applied Econometrics from the Journal of Econometrics, the Ulysses Medal from the University College Dublin in 2006, the 2007 Theodore W. Schultz Award from the American Agricultural Economics Association, the Gold Medal of the President of the Italian Republic, awarded by the International Scientific Committee of the Pio ManzĂș Centre in 2008, the Distinguished Contributions to Public Policy for Children Award from the Society for Research in Child Development in 2009, and the Frisch Medal from the Econometric Society in 2014 for the most outstanding paper in applied economics published in Econometrica in the previous five years. He is a recent recipient of a NIH MERIT award.

He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, USA; a member of the American Philosophical Society; a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences; the American Association for the Advancement of Science; the Econometric Society; the Society of Labor Economics; the American Statistical Association; the International Statistical Institute; and the National Academy of Education. He has received numerous honorary degrees, most recently from University College London in 2013, and is a foreign member of Academica Sinica and the Brazilian Academy of Sciences.

He is currently co-editor of the Journal of Political Economy. He has published over 300 articles and 9 books. His most recent book is The Myth of Achievement Tests: The GED and the Role of Character in American Life (University of Chicago Press, 2014). He is actively engaged in conducting and guiding empirical and theoretical research on skill development, inequality, and social mobility.

 

Research Statement

I am interested in the economics of human flourishing, or the circumstances under which people are able to develop the skills to thrive in our current economy. These encompass the conventional, cognitive sense of the word (education, on-the-job training) as well as the noncognitive sense (such as the qualities of perseverance and accountability). I develop theoretical models of parental choice and child preference formation, as well as intergenerational models of family influence. I also estimate dynamic models of the evolution of skills and capacities using longitudinal data.

With my co-authors, I develop dynamic nonlinear factor models to organize large-scale developmental data sets and use multiple measurements and multiple equations to identify technologies of skill and health formation. This work determines the origins of human differences and the effectiveness of alternative intervention strategies to foster human skills and capacities and remediate disadvantages.

I am the founding director the Human Capital and Economic Opportunity Global Working Group (with Robert Dugger and Steven Durlauf). I am a member of the Becker-Friedman Institute for Research in Economics and a Senior Advisor for the China Development Research Foundation.

I seek collaboration with biologists, economists, psychologists, neuroscientists, sociologists, and statisticians doing serious work on the origins of human inequality and the effectiveness of remediation. Many details remain to be addressed, but the vision is clear: in order to develop a strong theory of human flourishing, a strong interdisciplinary effort is required.

James J. Heckman Awards

From the Nobel to the Fritz Medal
  • 2016Dan David Prize for Combatting Poverty

    Awarded by Dan David Foundation, headquartered at Tel Aviv University
  • 2014Spirit of Erikson Institute Award

    Awarded by the Erikson Institute
  • 2014Frisch Medal

    Awarded by the Econometric Society
  • 2010Member, National Academy of Education

  • 2009Distinguished Contributions to Public Policy for Children Award

    Awarded by the Society for Research in Child Development
  • 2008Gold Medal of the President of the Italian Republic

    Awarded by the International Scientific Committee of the Pio Manzu Centre
  • 2007Theodore W. Schultz Award

    Awarded by the American Agricultural Economics Association
  • 2005Dennis Aigner Award for Applied Econometrics

    Awarded by the Journal of Econometrics
  • 2005Ulysses Medal

    Awarded by the University College Dublin
  • 2005Jacob Mincer Award for Lifetime Achievement in Labor Economics

  • 2000Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel

  • 1983John Bates Clark Medal

    Awarded by the American Economic Association

James J. Heckman Publications

Recent and Frequently Cited Publications

Recent Books

The Myth of Achievement Tests: The GED and the Role of Character in American Life (ed. with J.E. Humphries and T. Kautz). Chicago: University of Chicago Press, January 2014. Amazon   

Giving Kids a Fair Chance. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2012. Amazon    Boston Review   

Global Perspectives on the Rules of Law (edited with R. Nelson and L. Cabatingan). New York: Routledge, 2010. Amazon   


Frequently Cited Journal Articles

Heckman, J.J. (1979). Sample selection bias as a specification error. Econometrica, 153-161.

Heckman, J.J. (1979). The common structure of statistical models of truncation, sample selection and limited dependent variables and a simple estimator for such models. Annals of Econometric and Social Measurement, 5(4), 475-492.

Heckman, J.J., Ichimura, H., and Todd, P.E. (1997). Matching as an economic evaluation estimator: Evidence from evaluating a job training programme. The Review of Economic Studies, 64(4), 605-654.

Heckman, J.J., LaLonde, R.J., and Smith, J.A. (1999). The economics and econometrics of of active labor market programs. Handbook of Labor Economics, 3, 1865-2097.

Heckman, J.J., and Singer, B. (1984). A method for minimizing the impact of distributional assumptions in econometric models for duration data. Econometrica, 271-320.


For a complete list of publications, download Professor Heckman's full curriculum vitae .