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The Technology of Skill Formation

  • James Heckman
  • Pedro Carneiro
  • Flavio Cunha

his paper presents formal models of child development that capture the essence of recent findings from the empirical literature on child development. The goal is to provide theoretical frameworks for interpreting the evidence from a vast empirical literature, for guiding the next generation of empirical studies and for formulating policy. We start from the premise that skill formation is a life-cycle process. It starts in the womb and goes on throughout most of the adult life. Families and firms have a role in this process that is at least as important as the role of schools. There are multiple skills and multiple abilities that are important for adult success. Abilities are both inherited and created, and the traditional debate of nature versus nurture is outdated and scientifically obsolete. The technology of skill formation has two additional important characteristics. The first one is that IQ and behavior are more plastic at early ages than at later ages. Furthermore, behavior is much more malleable than IQ as individuals age. The second is that human capital investments are complementary over time. Early investments increase the productivity of later investments. Early investments are not productive if they are not followed up by later investments. The returns to investing early in the life cycle are high. Remediation of inadequate early investments is difficult and very costly

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Paper provided by Society for Economic Dynamics in its series 2004 Meeting Papers with number 681.

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Date of creation: 2004
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:red:sed004:681
Contact details of provider: Postal: Society for Economic Dynamics Marina Azzimonti Department of Economics Stonybrook University 10 Nicolls Road Stonybrook NY 11790 USA
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  1. Garces, E. & Thomas, D. & Currie, J., 2000. "Longer Term Effects of Head Start," Papers 00-20, RAND - Labor and Population Program.
  2. James J. Heckman & Jora Stixrud & Sergio Urzua, 2006. "The Effects of Cognitive and Noncognitive Abilities on Labor Market Outcomes and Social Behavior," NBER Working Papers 12006, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Pedro Carneiro & James J. Heckman, 2002. "The Evidence on Credit Constraints in Post-Secondary Schooling," NBER Working Papers 9055, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Roland Benabou, 2002. "Tax and Education Policy in a Heterogeneous-Agent Economy: What Levels of Redistribution Maximize Growth and Efficiency?," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 70(2), pages 481-517, March.
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  7. Flavio Cunha & James J. Heckman & Susanne M. Schennach, 2010. "Estimating the Technology of Cognitive and Noncognitive Skill Formation," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 78(3), pages 883-931, 05.
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  11. Jacob A. Mincer, 1974. "Schooling, Experience, and Earnings," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number minc74-1, December.
  12. David Blau & Janet Currie, 2004. "Preschool, Day Care, and Afterschool Care: Who's Minding the Kids?," NBER Working Papers 10670, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  13. Flavio Cunha & James J. HECKMAN, 2009. "Investing in our Young People," Rivista Internazionale di Scienze Sociali, Vita e Pensiero, Pubblicazioni dell'Universita' Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, vol. 117(3), pages 387-418.
  14. Jacob A. Mincer, 1974. "Introduction to "Schooling, Experience, and Earnings"," NBER Chapters, in: Schooling, Experience, and Earnings, pages 1-4 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  15. Carneiro, Pedro & Heckman, James J. & Masterov, Dimitriy V., 2005. "Labor Market Discrimination and Racial Differences in Premarket Factors," IZA Discussion Papers 1453, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  16. Melissa Osborne & Herbert Gintis & Samuel Bowles, 2001. "The Determinants of Earnings: A Behavioral Approach," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 39(4), pages 1137-1176, December.
  17. Gary S. Becker & Nigel Tomes, 1994. "Human Capital and the Rise and Fall of Families," NBER Chapters, in: Human Capital: A Theoretical and Empirical Analysis with Special Reference to Education (3rd Edition), pages 257-298 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  18. Hansen, Karsten T. & Heckman, James J. & Mullen, K.J.Kathleen J., 2004. "The effect of schooling and ability on achievement test scores," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 121(1-2), pages 39-98.
  19. Heckman, James J, 1995. "Lessons from the Bell Curve," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 103(5), pages 1091-1120, October.
  20. Janet Currie & Duncan Thomas, 1998. "School Quality and the Longer-Term Effects of Head Start," NBER Working Papers 6362, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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  24. Knudsen, Eric I. & Heckman, James J. & Cameron, Judy L. & Shonkoff, Jack P., 2006. "Economic, Neurobiological and Behavioral Perspectives on Building America's Future Workforce," IZA Discussion Papers 2190, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  25. Costas Meghir & Mårten Palme, 2001. "The effect of a social experiment in education," IFS Working Papers W01/11, Institute for Fiscal Studies.
  26. John M. Barron & Mark C. Berger & Dan A. Black, 2006. "Selective Counteroffers," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 24(3), pages 385-410, July.
  27. Yoram Ben-Porath, 1967. "The Production of Human Capital and the Life Cycle of Earnings," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 75, pages 352.
  28. Cunha, Flavio & Heckman, James J. & Lochner, Lance, 2006. "Interpreting the Evidence on Life Cycle Skill Formation," Handbook of the Economics of Education, Elsevier.
  29. Stephen V. Cameron & James J. Heckman, 1998. "Life Cycle Schooling and Dynamic Selection Bias: Models and Evidence for Five Cohorts of American Males," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 106(2), pages 262-333, April.
  30. Flavio Cunha & James J. Heckman, 2008. "Formulating, Identifying and Estimating the Technology of Cognitive and Noncognitive Skill Formation," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 43(4).
  31. Elizabeth Caucutt & Lance Lochner, 2004. "Early and Late Human Capital Investments, Credit Constraints, and the Family," 2004 Meeting Papers 129, Society for Economic Dynamics.
  32. James Heckman & Pedro Carneiro, 2003. "Human Capital Policy," NBER Working Papers 9495, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  33. Richard C. Edwards, 1976. "Individual Traits and Organizational Incentives: What Makes a "Good" Worker?," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 11(1), pages 51-68.
  34. Stephen V. Cameron & James J. Heckman, 2001. "The Dynamics of Educational Attainment for Black, Hispanic, and White Males," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 109(3), pages 455-499, June.
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