Creating Skills to Promote Social Opportunity and Reduce Poverty by James Heckman

Published on: 2015-11-11

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Abstract / Seminar Summary

This lecture will present recent research on the economics, psychology, and neuroscience of creating capabilities – the capacities to function in the economy and the larger society. Capabilities are multiple in nature. Performance in different tasks requires different combinations of capabilities. Capabilities are skills shaped by parenting, schooling, workplaces, and interactions with peers and mentors. They also have a strong genetic basis. This research moves the conceptualization of skill and its measurement beyond the usual focus on schools and scores on achievement tests to a broader notion of the skills (capabilities) that matter and how they can be measured. It analyzes the life cycle evolution of capabilities. Different stages of the life cycle are relatively more productive in creating different capabilities. Early childhood is productive for creating all capabilities. Capabilities act synergistically in creating future capabilities. The implications of this analysis for policies to promote capability formation and for analyzing poverty, social mobility, and economic and social opportunity are developed.

About the Speaker

James J. Heckman is the Henry Schultz Distinguished Service Professor of Economics at the University of Chicago, a Nobel Memorial Prize winner in economics and an expert in the economics of human development. Through the university’s Center for the Economics of Human Development, he has conducted groundbreaking work with a consortium of economists, developmental psychologists, sociologists, statisticians and neuroscientists showing that quality early childhood development heavily influences health, economic and social outcomes for individuals and society at large. Heckman has shown that there are great economic gains to be had by investing in early childhood development.

Professor Heckman’s work has been devoted to the development of a scientific basis for economic policy evaluation. His recent research focuses on human development and lifecycle skill formation, with a special emphasis on the economics of early childhood development. His research has given policymakers important new insights into such areas as education, job-training programs, minimum-wage legislation, anti-discrimination law, social supports and civil rights.

Prof Heckman often shares his insights on Twitter @heckmanequation.

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